Sunday, September 23, 2018

Inspiring words...even from one year ago!

In prepping for a new week at work, I watched this announcement video I had created last fall for my online course.  I'm recycling this video and using it again since it is still relevant one year later.

However, what I said from the 1 minute 15 second mark to the end took on a whole new meaning given what I reflected on last night as I build from the previous post here.






I'm feeling extra thankful for the hidden mistakes or perceived "mess ups" and for the chance to allow God to work through the mess and unexpected tonight.  In the words of one of my favorite saints:  Padre Pio, "Pray, Hope, & Don't Worry" (today is his feast day)!!

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Fall Blooms

My favorite season starts in a couple hours. For as long as I can remember, fall was always my favorite season. The cool air, the Friday night football games, the leaves exploding with vibrant hues of reds, oranges, and golds, and scents of apples, pumpkins, and spice flavored everything fill me up with joy. It is only fitting Adam and I met during one of my favorite months and that we shared our news that we were expecting at 20 weeks along two short years later in October 2015.

With the arrival of autumn, change is on the horizon which matches my mood lately. I am ready for a change. Lately, I have felt as if I were stuck in a rut spiritually and emotionally. When I look back at who I used to be and compare this to who I have become over the last 2.5 years, I mourn the woman I used to be. I want to be filled with optimism and hope for the future rather than sharing the space of gratitude and happiness with the ever present despair and longing that accompanied the other long lasting effects of the unexpected hysterectomy that was performed on Charlotte's birthday. The other day, I realized that Charlotte will never know me as I was prior to her arrival. For as long as she will remember, she will know a mom who had an air of wistful sadness about her mixed in with the unspeakable joy that comes with being her mom.  Yes, I can actively strive to focus on the positive and be grateful but the unshakeable sadness will always be a part of me...but will hopefully lessen over time!

Next month, Adam and I will celebrate five years of knowing each other.  Over the past five years, I got my PhD, we got married, I moved three times, we moved Adam cross country, got a puppy, bought a house, had our first and last child; all while teaching, researching, and serving in a new community...whew!

When I lost my fertility, I felt like my world had caved in and unsure of my footing on the slippery slope. I have always been someone who has had a plan even from a young age...a plan ensured knowing what I wanted and how to achieve it. My plan could change along the way, but as with the changing seasons, I could adjust to new scenery and eventually still reach my goal. However, with this life change that is so absolute--so final--so just....done...so many other things crumbled and withered away with it. Gone with the wind were our dreams of having a brood of siblings for Charlotte. Crunching underfoot were our desires to experience pregnancy for a second, third, and as many as possible other times. Fading to a dull brown were the other names we had thought of for future children.

Yes, with this sudden and drastic change in plans, it was different for me.  Oftentimes, I feel like a shell of myself with new life blooming and blossoming all around me but I was dying inside unable to grow or bloom where I was planted much like what happens in the fall when vegetation dies and colors fade. I struggle with knowing what choices are best when I used to be so sure and confident. Life can be so busy and it all can be so very overwhelming especially when paralyzed or stuck in sorrow and pain. Over the last 2.5 years, I have learned to live with the barren essence that is my reality now.  I am finding a new path; one without the large family Adam and I dreamed for ourselves but on a different path that is wide enough for our family of three (and pups) to put one foot in front of the other as we walk amidst the joy and sorrow. You know what though? The sun still shines through the canopy of leaves on this path and lights the way amidst the shadows.

I am learning to be a mommy to Charlotte Annie as we go but each day fall into the trap of wondering, "What if?", regarding other children who did not come to be...especially when others who were pregnant at the same time or after me announce pregnancies or give birth to siblings for their kiddos. I wonder about the little souls Adam and I could have met had we been able to birth other children. My mom mentioned once her own sadness about the grandchildren she didn't get to meet through us. Since she knew I had always wanted tons of children, she too had looked forward to the day we would have a house full of little ones. I hadn't considered what the pain I wish I didn't know might feel like for others in our families until she said that. Life can be so cruel and heartbreaking sometimes. Yet, we have been given new chances to embrace that which we might not otherwise choose for ourselves by the grace of God. 30 months have come and gone of trying to get unstuck and out of this rut. I am sick of this view and ready to get on with it. Mind over matter right?

I am still in the woods somewhere...these days, the path is being navigated by a busy and curious Charlotte Annie as I try to grow into being a more happy mom, wife, teacher, daughter, sister, advisor, and friend. Society, thanks to social media and pinterest, can make it difficult to show our true selves and easy to hide behind a facade but through writing and prayer, I am learning how to share about our loss when I, not unlike many others I would bet, would rather shy away from grief and tragedy. Thankfully, by the grace of God and with support of loved ones, I have learned to get up and keep going every day. Many days managing this secondary infertility has been so very overwhelming and incredibly lonely. I have had to live moment by moment instead of hour by hour or day by day for much of the last 2.5 years but I am still here.  That has to mean something. There must be a purpose to all of this...for our family...my work...maybe for the community somehow?

The dark hours and days still come and I am learning to manage my anger and other emotions with all this as best I can. I know there are far bigger problems out there and I am so beyond grateful for the gift of our honeymoon baby and the life I do have. There is always some sort of growth or life to be found..even if just a tiny wildflower amidst some weeds along the path in the dark woods. My goal to help get out of this rut, is to keep trying to grow and finding something to be grateful for even if it’s simply that I kept us all alive today because that IS an accomplishment and something to treasure. The endless chores around the house, grading, trying to catch up on research, meeting the needs of the task forces, committees, and community help to keep my mind occupied. And just maybe... Maybe... to forgive myself as there was nothing I could have done differently during pregnancy or delivery to give Charlotte a different kind of life she will grow up having family-wise. I sure didn't see this one coming and I pray she will understand someday.

I share all this to not wallow...to not throw a pity party...to instead say; if you are struggling, I have been there. If you are hurting, I feel you. I am with you. Take time to go through the emotions. Find your support system or way of venting. Then get up and keep going. If you can’t, it’s okay to not be okay. I have been not okay for a while but each day keep trying... which hopefully makes a difference. Give yourself permission to say “no,” (another area in which I struggle!) let go, feel, forgive, and be happy again. Please don’t give up because God will provide!! Big hugs and love to all of those who have supported me through this journey, especially my husband. 💕

Autumn is a beautiful reminder to let go...watch those glorious fall colors emerge on the trees this season and with each falling leaf let a fear or a worry be released as God tends to us, His garden. I am going to continue to pour all of my heart and soul into our beautiful little blooming Charlotte. As much as I want to protect and encase her like a single rose under a glass, or as much as I wish she could be one precious flower in a garden of many fragrant flowers grown by Adam and me, I have to let her grow and bloom in her own right. Wow! If this is how I feel over our daughter, I can only imagine how God must feel about us - His sons and daughters. Let us all think of how we can grow and evolve in the upcoming season....bring on the fall and change in spite of plans!


Friday, September 7, 2018

Charlotte Ann is 2.5!!

Charlotte Annie turned 2.5 years old today!!

She literally rolled her eyes when I asked her for a picture to celebrate her being 2.5 years old today!  
She makes quite the entrance like she did when she greeted me on campus the other night.  On Wednesdays this semester, Adam has a class that starts at 4:30pm while my last class ends at 4:15pm.  Since we don't have childcare for that small gap in time, he brings her to campus where he transfers her to me as my class wraps up for the evening.  This past week, she literally hopped into the classroom proclaiming, "Charlotte jumping!  Charlotte jumping!  Charlotte jumping!" much to the smiles and amusement of the college students getting released from my class.  She loves to perform and sing but, at times, does grow shy if others beside her Mom and Dad are watching her.  She also likes to tell us about every move she makes such as, "Whoa!!" or "Charlotte falling!" if she feels as if she's going to lose her balance.

Her favorite things right now are Daddy's cell phone so she can look at pictures from this past summer, a TV show about a girl and her horse called, "Spirit", and playing with her friends.  She regularly asks for her cousins, the children from the babysitter's home, and her friend, Robbie.  

She still loves taking car rides and goes nearly everywhere with me.  Recently, we have been enjoying excursions to Pittsburgh together as we deliver donated milk to Baby Toby who was adopted by some friends.  She often calls her baby dolls, "Baby Toby" and proclaims that she needs to go get his milk and bring it to him.  Even with being able to spin, jump, walk, and run, she continues to enjoy crawling into small spaces and hiding in the kitchen pantry from time to time.  Another favorite hobby of hers is to empty out all the K-cups from the drawer under our Keurig and dump them in the coffee trash can, on the floor, or line them up in a line on the dining room table.  She definitely likes making lines and rows whether it be with magnets on the fridge in our kitchen, the magnets on my filing cabinet at work, or her toy animals lining up along the coffee table or on the couch in the living room.

She also very much enjoys climbing up onto the bathroom sink and turning on the water so she can splash in it.  She is quite the monkey as I caught her sitting on the end table by the front door last night dangling her legs and playing with her dolls from her high perch.

We still do milk cups just before bedtime and sometimes in the morning depending on her mood.  In the last month, we converted the crib to a toddler bed so we often wake to find her lying on the floor next to our bed with her beloved pillow and blanket.  It could be due to her newfound freedom and/or due to her sleeping in the same room with us during all our traveling this past summer!


We have entered the picky food days.  Her favorites are peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, grapes, bananas sometimes (usually only at the grocery store!), crackers, and string cheese.  She definitely takes after Adam and me due to her sweet tooth!   

What baffles me is that she shows no interest in what I offer her food-wise at home but yet if we're out on a play date, she willingly eats others’ snacks made up of the same food I offered (the other day she happily enjoyed munching on some goldfish and grapes from a friend we had met at the zoo).   I guess she just enjoys others' food more than her own!?

Lately, Charlotte has not been as into books as in the past which is a struggle for me.  She would rather technology over the toys or books at times.  Something she gets great pleasure from, though, is drawing and coloring!  She often asks for her crayons or pencils so she can be creative.  She also loves her Play-doh and will spend a long time shaping and molding the Play-doh.  She also makes it her personal mission to pull out lipstick, white-out, markers, and other hard to get out of the carpet or off walls materials.  She loves getting her hands on these things and then writing or drawing on anything she can with these forbidden items.  She currently is sporting white-out on her forehead, marker on her legs, and a light lipstick stain on her arm even after a bubble bath tonight.  For some reason, she also prefers things to be on the floor and constantly pulls things down or knocks them over to have them land topsy turvy on the floor.  She loves to be tucked in at night and especially likes having the blanket come down over her hands.  Her dolls and babies are some favorite toys and she likes hugging and cuddling them.    

A highlight for Charlotte this past summer was that on our last trip of the summer that took us to Washington, DC, she experienced her first subway ride, her first Taxi ride, her first river boat ride, and her first Uber ride.....all in one day!    

Charlotte is definitely a chatty Cathy and loves to talk.  She especially loves telling people about her shoes and her body parts before launching into a request for happy faces, sad faces, surprised faces!  She continues to be very expressive with her dad and me yet can be quiet and a bit reserved when she is with others depending on her mood.  More often than not she is outgoing though...especially with the college students she sees pretty regularly.  She loves to beckon people to come over to her by saying, "Come", with a tiny cupped hand motioning someone to follow her where she can one by one unload all her toys and say what the name is for each object.  She also blows kisses and is very expressive with her feelings.  All of them.  These days it feels like we are on an emotional roller coaster with the world ending one second and then being happy as the tears are drying on her face....accompanied with her statements of, "Charlotte sad", "I happy!", to "Charlotte crying".   
  
She loves playing in the living room with her toys, watching TV in the St. Francis room, and loves to sing with any toy that becomes a microphone on the spot...even a hanger served this purpose last night when she sang in her crib before bedtime.  She is no longer as gentle with the pups and giggles with delight as she chases them around the living room, dining room, and kitchen.  She likes to try to let them outside even if they aren't leashed which has led to some antics of running after Hershey in the yard before he escapes too far.  Even though she is more active with the pups, she still has her quiet moments, particularly with Dusty Shamrock.  They are so patient with her as she pulls and tugs on their collars to bring them to where she wants them.

She loves to cover Dusty up with a blanket and then peeks in on him to make sure he is still there.


Peanut Butter Lover and Wearer of the brown stuff!
A friend gave us this hand me down dollhouse that we gave to Charlotte today on her half birthday.  She has been enjoying it thus far!



 




One of my favorite things about this stage is the spontaneous utterance of "I love you, Mommy!" that she says every now and then.  She also likes to say, "Love you, Bye!  Have fun!" as we leave places whether it be Lowe's, a restaurant, or even a drive-thru!  She is such a bright spot in our lives and fills us up with laughter and joy which is so needed!

This was from earlier this week when we drove home from the zoo after a fun-filled day with a new friend.  However, when I snapped this picture, she was saying, "Robbie, Robbie!" over and over since I had told her that he had been asking for her.  It's so sweet to see the friendships blossom and grow between Charlotte and her pals.








I hope you always have your fill of sunshine and happiness and grace and strength for the hard days.  We love you oodles and noodles Charlotte Annie!

Monday, July 16, 2018

Baptismversary!

I posted this two years ago today.  


I had excitedly planned for this special day for four months after the birth of Charlotte.  Adam and I had even gone on a tasting at the restaurant where we had her Baptism Party after the mass in February a couple weeks before she was born.  We went to a couple bakeries to investigate cakes and I even was able to get a custom order of peanut butter rice krispie treats with chocolate icing from a man we had met during an Advent Market the previous Christmas.  So, as you can see, planning for Charlotte's Baptism was a multi-month affair and I was really excited for her family from both sides to be present for her entrance to the Church and wanted to make the day extra special for all involved. 

Charlotte's Baptism Day, as well as today, is the feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Yes, two years ago from today Charlotte Annie was baptized! My mom reminded me this morning that four years ago today was my wedding dress fitting as well. Until today, I hadn't thought of the connection between the donning of a white (well, ivory) dress for that sacrament versus the smaller (somewhat) white dress for Charlotte to wear for her first sacrament on the very same day a couple years later.

There are many things that could be shared about Our Lady of Mount Carmel but my favorite revolves around what is typically called the "brown scapular" which is a religious article and devotional custom within our faith. As a child, I remember not caring for the traditional wearing of the scapular as it was itchy and uncomfortable under my uniform.  For those of you not familiar with the practice, the scapular was a type of work apron made up of a front and and back that is joined together over the shoulders that had traditionally been worn by monks.  The scapular formed some parts of the habit or "uniform" of some religious orders.  One such order was that of the Carmelites who lived in the Mt. Carmel region.  St. Simon Stock, according to history, had received a smaller form of the scapular that could be worn like a necklace as a symbol of membership to the order that among other things focuses on chastity, the rosary, and a desire to grow closer to Jesus through imitating Mary, his Mother.

Years later, as an adult in 2011, Mom and I attended a half day retreat at my church in York, PA that ended in being vested in and receiving scapulars before I headed to a wedding that afternoon.





The last part of the retreat took place in the chapel where unknowingly four years later, I would engage in the First Non-Look with my future husband on our wedding day!  Thus began my rededication to this devotion that continues even to today seven years later.  Toward the end of summer 2011, I began wearing a blessed Our Lady of Mt. Carmel medal to replace the itchy scapular - - guess some things don't change!

Fast forward to 2016 when Charlotte was born and it was time to choose a baptism date. She was born in early March a few weeks shy of Easter. In an effort to accommodate family schedules, we were delighted when the church gave us the date of Saturday, July 16th, as an option. Charlotte was born on the feast day of Sts. Perpetua and Felicity and now would have a connection with Our Lady of Mount Carmel by being baptized on such a special day!



Charlotte was up super early the morning of her Baptism.  This was taken as the sun rose...guess she knew that it was the dawning of a special day!!


I was excited to hang this up above the threshold to the St. Francis room/Charlotte's nursery.  My parents had gifted us with this unique crucifix I had seen on the day Adam proposed out in Colorado for Charlotte's Baptism Day.  They had given it to us some time before July 16th rolled around but I waited until that weekend to hang it where it has resided ever since.  Isn't it so beautiful?  I love how it is a daily reminder that Jesus is reaching out to us and has given us the Holy Spirit to guide us.


Looking back, I have thought back on that beautiful time surrounding the sacrament so often.  That week was so special as it was when Pa (Adam's Dad) met his second granddaughter for the first time as well as Aunt Wendy who is her godmother!  Dan and Sue made the trip in from Virginia Beach and were able to meet her for the first time then.  I will share the fun we had that week in another post so more to come later!  





Charlotte was all smiles when we checked to make sure her bonnet from Aunt Wendy still fit her that morning.  We attended the 5pm mass and the Baptism followed after it.  What was extra special was that we had worked with the organist of our church, Joe, who allowed us to hand select all the songs for that mass. 

Three of the songs were played during our wedding mass so it was wonderful to hear them in the context of Charlotte's Baptism mass the following summer.  My hurting heart was especially comforted when I saw what was listed for July 17th....and this sentiment went well with the song that we had chosen for the closing song of the mass:  "It is Well with My Soul ".  



 The above and below passages were great reminders, during Charlotte's Baptism Mass, to keep persevering amidst the trials that will inevitably come our way.


We also recycled a song from our wedding mass, "Make Me a Channel of Your Peace", as one of my desires for Charlotte is that she feels peace no matter where she is in life and that she lives a life of service to others emulating Jesus' example.  Additionally, "Be Not Afraid" will hopefully inspire her to lean on God always and to not fear the unknown or changes she may encounter as she goes through life.


 I strayed from the traditional all white dress for Charlotte's Baptism as the colorful flowers on this dress comforted me and reminded me of God's promise through the symbol of a rainbow.  The colors also reminded me of the wedding.  Some of my nephews even wore their shirts from the wedding the previous year!  More importantly, as I said, the dress' colors of the rainbow signified to me that God's promises still hold true and that all will be (and is) well. I wanted Charlotte's Baptism Day to be full of hope and peace and dressing her in this dress that was a hand me down from her big cousin, Mason, did just that!















I love this photo of Charlotte's godparents - - her Uncle Patrick and Aunt Wendy!!



Poor Braden!  He was upset he wasn't holding Charlotte Annie!




We enjoyed fellowship with one another and a dinner followed by cake at a restaurant downtown after mass.  It was lovely having the banquet room to ourselves with our own bathroom so that we did not have to worry about noise levels or disturbing other patrons of the restaurant!





This was a beautiful gift from my sister-in-law, Liz, that perfectly matched the decor at the party after mass!  I ended up displaying it next to the cake which was the perfect finishing touch! 


  The children enjoyed the various stations I had set up for the children to complete.  The guests also signed a book for Charlotte to enjoy when she gets older.  












We were so thankful for those who were able to come spend time with us as Charlotte was welcomed into the church.  During the blessing, Aunt Maureen (my godmother) led us all in a spontaneous rendition of "This is the Day the God has Made", that reduced me to a puddle of tears.  This song has special meaning for my Mom and me and was actually one of the songs Adam and I had selected for our wedding but were unable to use.  We were able to have it be the responsorial psalm for Charlotte's Baptism mass though!

Looking back at these photos from two years ago, I see I'm missing ones that contain my parents so Mom and Dad, if you're reading this and have any pictures, please do send them my way so I can include them in this post!  xoxo

Here are the favors and decor I worked on in the weeks leading up to the Baptism.  Some people may view these preparations as being extreme but I just wanted it to be a special time for all and to honor our Blessed Mother as well.  Our Lady of Mt. Carmel holds a special place in my heart and it was by divine providence that this special celebration fell on that day!!


 Getting everything ready to take to the restaurant after mass!


 Since this was a celebration of a Baptism, I inserted straws with fish at the ends for the kiddos' favor bags.  They went with the children's book on the sacrament that was available for reading at the restaurant as one of the stations I planned.


 These were yummy caramels that were placed
on the tables as centerpieces...get it...?  Our Lady of Mt. CARMEL.... ; )

 
 The guests were also given holy cards that displayed this beautiful picture of Mary and Jesus and then on the back had a prayer for a special need on them.  Adam and I are currently praying this prayer for the next nine days (kind of as a backwards novena) to discern some education decisions, for a friend's adoption of their little boy Toby, and for another friend who's son was in an accident yesterday.  Won't you consider joining us in prayer over the next nine days by praying the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel prayer?

I also included the address and information on the guests' dinner selections since these prayer cards were given to the guests immediately after the Baptism as we departed the church.



I even tried my hand at origami by trying to make butterflies as part of the decor.  The tissue paper flowers were easier (and more fun for me) to make that you can see in the bag above and on the cake table.  The colors of these handmade decorations reminded me of our wedding too!



 Here is everything all packed up and ready to go!  I snapped this picture as Charlotte and I wrapped up our preparations for her big day!  This was just before I donated my hair too.  I had forgotten how long it had grown until I saw this picture!


We had a beautiful day of sunshine, love, and blessings for Charlotte's Baptism Day.  One of our favorite gifts from that evening was a traditional gift from Aunt Marie.  She makes a Baptism Quilt for all her grandchildren and grandnieces/nephews.  I was so thrilled to open it and see the theme of The Poky Little Puppy...one of my favorite childhood books and hopefully it will soon be Charlotte's favorite too!  Here it is in the St. Francis Room the next day.





I will need to add a picture of the quilt actually spread out and on display so it can be viewed in all its glory.  It's worth the wait I promise!  ; )

After our guests departed the following week, we were left with some of these mementos.



These are the sealed letters from Charlotte's Godparents that are being stored in the frame on the left below from her Baptism Day.  She will open them when she is confirmed.  What a special treat it will be for her to read these letters written from the heart.





You can tell by Charlotte's smiling face she loved having her family with her for Baptism Week! 


 What a blessing it is to be walking through life with this man at my side.  I wouldn't want to be on this (faith) journey with anyone else and am so thankful to have such a strong Catholic leader for our family and household.


The above picture is my favorite from that day even though  Charlotte isn't smiling.  When I look at this picture, I'm reminded of God's steadfast love and that hope endures all things.  There is a stillness about this picture even though there was a flurry of activity happening at the moment.  I framed it and have it in our living room in an effort to hang on to that peace and to keep forefront in my mind that God is still here and all around us.  Be still and know....Psalm 46:10.


Just for fun...a photo shoot with the Baptism bonnet a few weeks later toward end of summer.  I find it amazing that in the top right and bottom left pictures, she looks like me when I was a baby but in the other two pictures she more closely resembles Adam.  I miss when she was this little as I sit here and reflect on where we were two years ago but it's been a joy seeing her personality develop and hearing her thoughts come spilling out through her speech.

If you made it this far, thank you for reading and for reliving this joyous day with me.  It was two years in the making of writing and I'm glad it's finally done...it is hard to go back and relive milestones such as this one knowing it is the only time we will experience baptizing a child we have birthed and standing as witnesses to raising the child up in God.  Just typing this alone brings up tears but there is joy mixed in with the sadness as is so often the case when it comes to documenting these sorts of things for our little one.  

However, looking back at July 16, 2016, this day was definitely a positive bright day amidst many dark days over the last couple years and seeing the songs and readings from that mass are gentle reminders to follow my own advice or ways of thinking when I selected them for Charlotte to consider some day when she is older.  Shepherd me indeed, Oh God, for I can't do this alone.  Allow the pain and sadness to serve as redemptive suffering and use me however you see fit.  All for the glory of God and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, pray for us!  Pax.