Monday, 6 March 2017

Mass Musings: Lenten Inspiration


So, how is your Lent going so far? Has it been a joy, or a struggle, or somewhere in between? Have you taken the time to go deeper into your faith?

Going into Lent, I kind of overloaded myself. I wanted to do all these things to become a better Catholic, and a better person. But one day, as I was driving to pick my daughter up from school, I was listening to The Catholic Channel on Sirius XM (Channel 129. I'm a big fan of Jennifer Fullwiler, Lino Rulli and Father Dave Dwyer!). I can't really remember which program I was listening to (I'm thinking maybe Gus Lloyd?) and the speaker was talking about how we don't do the three tenets of Lent -- fasting, prayer and almsgiving -- to make ourselves better, or to somehow make God love us more. God can't possibly love us any more than He already does! His love is so infinite, so unfathomably deep, that it's hard to understand. But the wonderful thing about His love is that it is a free gift -- we can't do anything to earn it.

No, Lent is not a time to polish ourselves and become all-star Catholics. It's a time to take a step back from the world, and a step into God. It's a time to prepare ourselves for the feast of remembrance of Christ's resurrection. It's a time to go deeper into the faith, and to take quiet time to really take stock of where we're at in our walk with God. By denying ourselves the luxuries of our cushy lives, even if it's just by giving up snacks or candy, and by extra prayer, perhaps even extra acts of mercy, we can put our priorities back in the order that God wants them to be in. What better way to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus than to strive to live lives that showcase his love to all?

I have a renewed love for the times of Lent and Advent. Both are quiet, introspective times where we can really be honest with ourselves, and honest with God, about what we need from Him. And He will always come to us when we first open ourselves to Him.

So what does all this have to do with the Mass readings from yesterday? Well, as much as we all know that Lent is an important time, it can be hard to really live it out. In the first reading, taken from Genesis 2 and 3, we see the story of how sin entered into the world, and entered into ourselves in the form of Adam and Eve's original sin. It's a sad story -- Adam and Eve were living in Paradise, but Satan tricked them into entering into temptation, and they had to leave the presence of God.

And yet, in the second reading, taken from Romans 5, we hear a hopeful message: But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man's trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. And again: Just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all people, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all people.

That's some pretty inspiring stuff! What is inspiring, as well, is the story of Christ's temptation by Satan at the end of his forty days in the desert. Matthew 4:1-11 tell us how Satan tempted Jesus with food, with testing God and with power. What did Jesus say? He was hungry after not eating for forty days, he was thirsty beyond imagining, and so tired. But what did he say? "Away with you, Satan! for it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'" Then the devil left him, and suddenly Angels came and waited on him.

There have been many times in my life -- not just during Lent -- that I should have followed Jesus' example, and in the face of temptation, said, "Away with you, Satan!" There are times I wish I was more grounded in the Scripture, so that I, like Jesus, could refer to it when faced with my own struggles. I'm going to focus not so much on what I'm giving up this Lent, or what I feel like I should be doing, and focus more on grounding myself in the faith, so that I too can resist temptation and stand strong in God.

I hope you learn and grow a lot this Lent. Don't worry if you stumble and fall -- God sees your effort, and He loves you. Nothing you do can make Him love you any more or any less. In the middle of a season that can be quite sombre, that's something to celebrate.

photo credit: timbu <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/43238820@N00/32858151410">Sun & Sand</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">(license)</a>

Friday, 3 March 2017

Dealing with Overwhelm


Motherhood is an amazing journey -- it has its highs and its lows, its moments of pure joy and, on the other hand, pure frustration. One of the most difficult things you can experience as a mother is overwhelm.

What is overwhelm? Well, in my own personal history with it, it's when things in your life get so busy and crazy, and you've put so many expectations on yourself and your children, that you end up feeling like it's all just too much.

I recently went through a spell of overwhelm. My twenty-month-old is getting his two-year molars in, so he's not feeling the best. He's keeping me up a lot of the night to nurse, and he's going through a super clingy stage where even when I go upstairs for a few minutes, and he's safe with his dad and sister, he screams like I'm abandoning him for life! And my daughter is going through some issues of her own -- the normal five-year-old things that come up, like copping a bit of attitude and testing boundaries by arguing.

I'd taken the kids to visit my parents for two days, since my sister and her husband had also come in, and we hadn't seen them since before Christmas. The first day there, my sister, mom and I took my son for a shopping day at the mall. We left my daughter with her grandfather, who always does a great job of looking after her.

Needless to say, my son's teething and separation anxiety made the whole trip to the mall hurried, unpleasant and extremely frustrating. I couldn't even go into the change room, and leave him for a few seconds (just a few feet away) with my mom and sister, without him having a screaming fit. Shopping is usually so fun and relaxing for me, but not this time! My mom and sister did what they could to help with him, but I think we were all thankful when we were back at Grandma and Grandpa's.

The following day was more of the same. I was having issues with my daughter, in that she really wanted to go to McDonald's for lunch, whereas we all wanted to go somewhere we could sit down and relax and eat real food. Thank goodness that Lent is here, and we've given up sugar and fast food, because I really feel like I was starting to give in too much to childish whims and catering far too much to exactly what my daughter wanted instead of exercising my parental autonomy over her.

The next day, I took the kids to Mass for Ash Wednesday before heading home. All I can say is thank goodness that the church in my parent's town has a separate place for parents to take their children when they're feeling rambunctious, because it was not a very relaxing time.

By the time I got back home, I was feeling so overwhelmed. I was snapping at the kids and I, myself, was copping an extremely bad attitude (which in no way helped my daughter to have a good attitude of her own -- she learns from me, after all!). I was even grumpy with my husband, when all he was trying to do was help me get to a better place.

So, I took some time to myself. I read a post on a mommy blog that dealt with the feelings of overwhelm, and I realized it was all completely normal (which I knew deep down, but sometimes it's really helpful to hear it from someone else who has been there). And I prayed, and started to feel better.

Now that we're back home and back to a normal routine, I feel much better. I also feel better because every morning I am spending time with God in prayer. I really feel like this strengthens me for whatever challenges I may face at any time during my day and my parenting journey. And I feel really good that I took the time to apologize to my husband and my daughter. I explained to them that I was feeling overwhelmed, but that it wasn't right for me to take a bad attitude with them, and I promised to work hard to keep a kind and loving attitude even when frustrated.

My kids are still going through things -- as I am. My baby boy is still teething and waking up at all hours. Boo is still working on having a better attitude. But I am now in a much better place. I can now model a positive, kind attitude. My biggest takeaway from this is that I need to let go and let God. I can't do it all. When my kids are going through things, I need to take some other things off the table and be there for them -- they are my priority! If it means spending less time on my writing, or on keeping the house looking perfect, so be it. There will be plenty of time for that later.

Embrace the chaos, don't fight it. Nothing lasts forever -- not difficult stages kids go through, and not this blessed time being the mother of two little ones. They'll grow up before I know it, and I'll miss the chaos. So I'll embrace it now.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Praying with the Pope: March Intentions


It's that time again! A new month, a new chance to add our prayers to those of Pope Francis as he gives us one special intention to really focus on this month.

This March, the Holy Father will be praying especially for evangelization: specifically for persecuted Christians, that they "may be supported by the prayers and material help of the whole Church." (taken from the Living with Christ Sunday Missal)

I ponder from time to time, not often enough, though, just how lucky I am to live where I do. My great-grandparents chose to emigrate from many places (Croatia, Germany, Scotland, Ireland) to Ontario, Canada. They could have chosen anywhere -- the United States, other parts of the Commonwealth, or other parts of North America. But they didn't -- they all chose Canada. I am so thankful for this -- thankful that I live in a country where I can go to Mass every Sunday and holy day, and openly practice my faith without fear of persecution or danger. I can pass the faith on to my children without worrying about whether they'll face dangerous repercussions for believing in the name of Christ.

But it's not so for every Christian. Sadly, in many places of the world, Christians are persecuted, suppressed, and put in grave danger just for their beliefs. It's mind-boggling to think that this still happens, in the year 2017! But as dangerous extremist groups like ISIS use their terrorizing, bullying tactics to push forward their toxic agenda, or groups like Boko Haram victimize the most innocent people, Christian persecution flourishes and continues in many parts of our world.

This month, let's unite with Pope Francis in prayer for these brave Christian men, women and children who put their faith before all else. Could we do the same? Let's also be generous in our giving -- to the Church, to charities that will help these people -- and let's be thankful that we are able to live out our faith without ramifications.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Mass Musings: Dealing with Worry

Worry got you down?
I went to Mass today praying that God would give me the strength and tenacity to be patient with my children during the service. My husband works every second Sunday, and so when he is with us, he is able to take our son if he's not sitting still, but when it's just me, it's a little harder.

My daughter is really good at sitting still, listening to the homily and different parts of the Mass, and participating. When she gets a little bored, she colours quietly. She's five and a half, after all, and quite mature for her age.

My sweet little son, on the other hand, reminds me of a tornado: he seems to be everywhere at once, and for such a little thing, he can be pretty forceful! He's 20 months old now, and that means he's got an insatiable appetite for exploring and a curiosity that just doesn't stop. Most times, I'm happy that he's such an adventurous, courageous little chap. But there are sometimes, like when we're at the doctor's office, or in the library, or, like today, at Mass, that I'd like him to tone it down just a little.

So, I had that worry on my mind going into Mass. I also carried all the other worries that most people get weighed down with on a daily basis, and that we, as women and moms especially, can get caught up in: should I have let the kids watch a My Little Pony episode this morning at breakfast? How much more screen time am I going to give them today? What am I going to make for supper? Am I going to be able to get through that pile of laundry today? Will my son go down for his nap without a fight?

These are day to day worries, the normal type of life stress that everyone encounters, in some form or another. But if you let them build up -- if you don't have an outlet for this type of stress -- it can become a problem.

I'm also familiar with the far more unpleasant cousin of worry: anxiety. I think, partially, I was wired for it from birth: it was just in my genes. Also, different circumstances in my young life helped to bring some of that natural tendency to anxiety out. I think I've had anxiety pretty well my whole life, but it never really became a problem for me until I was about sixteen or seventeen years old.

At that time, I started having daily panic attacks, on top of ongoing anxiety. After enough of these, which were terrifying, I started to feel pretty down, even depressed. Thankfully, I was able to come out of that. I was hit again with anxiety when my husband had to shut down his business and we had to move eight hours from where we had been living. This was about eight or nine years ago now. I also struggled with post-partum anxiety in the weeks following the birth of my children.

I've been through a lot to treat my anxiety, including medication, counselling, behavioural cognitive therapy and more. And while -- I thank the Lord -- my anxiety is no longer such a huge force in my life, I definitely do still have stress, and my anxiety can still creep up on me if I'm going through a more turbulent time in my life, or of I've been neglecting taking care of myself.

So what does all this have to do with today's Mass? Well, the readings for today really send home Jesus' message that we are not to let worry overcome us -- that we are to give our fears to God, and trust in Him.

From the very start of the Mass, at the entrance antiphon, we are comforted by Psalm 17:19-20: The Lord became my protector. He brought me out to a place of freedom; he saved me because he delighted in me.

Our first reading, Isaiah 49:14-15, talks about how God will never, ever forget about us or fail us, even though the closest of human relationships can: Zion said, "The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me." Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.

In today's gospel reading, from Matthew 6:24-34, we heard Jesus first explaining to his disciples that they cannot serve two masters. Then, he says: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?...Therefore do not worry, saying 'What will we eat?' or 'What will be drink?' or 'What will we wear?'...indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things...So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today."

We all have our worries -- Jesus understands this, which is why He spoke about it to His disciples. But when our worries get out of control, and turn into anxiety, which can in turn become a crippling, debilitating force in our lives, then we do indeed serve another master than God -- we serve fear.

So, how can we keep worry and fear and anxiety from taking over our lives? Well, I'm not a psychologist. I don't have any background in mental health education. All I know is what works for me, and I'd like to share that with you, in case these strategies can help you too. Here are my ten strategies for coping with anxiety.

1.) Give yourself a break! Worry and anxiety are a part of life. Don't be so hard on yourself. If your anxiety has gotten out of hand, it doesn't mean you are weak or crazy. It means you've been trying to be strong for a long time, but you need to take the next step to help yourself.
2.) Ask for help. If your anxiety has gotten to a point where it interferes with how you live your life, it's time to ask for some help. Talk about it to someone you trust, and take the first steps towards bringing the subject up with your doctor. Take it one day at a time, and trust that God has got this.
3.) Find someone to be your recovery partner. For me, it was my husband. Though he is a very mellow dude, and has never struggled with anxiety himself, he has been my rock and has gotten me through some very tough times, and it has only made us stronger. Choose someone who you can trust, who will support you no matter what. Choose someone balanced, and thoughtful and sensitive. Share your struggles, thoughts and progress with them.
4.) Read, read, read! There are so many books out there that deal with helping people with anxiety. One of my absolute favourites is From Panic to Power by Lucinda Basset. In fact, it was her fifteen-week program that stopped my anxiety in its tracks in my teen years. It really works!
5.) Meditate. Don't worry, I'm not telling you to become an expert yogi or a Buddhist monk (that would be kind of counterintuitive for a Catholic blog!). Just read up on some simple relaxation or meditation techniques. There are plenty out there that aren't religious -- I really recommend Chel Hamilton's Meditation Minis podcast (you can get it for free on any podcast app) and the Headspace program. I personally try to meditate once a day for full benefits.
6.) Write. Express yourself through the written word. Get a nice journal, and start recording your thoughts, feelings and experiences. Every day when you wake up, write what you are thankful for. Before bed, write about your day, and three reasons you're proud of yourself. End with another three things you're thankful for. It's helpful, for me, to look back on my journaling when I'm in a period of anxiety: it helps me to see that I've been there before and it will pass soon.
7.) Exercise and eat better. What we put in our bodies has a huge impact on how we feel emotionally. Cut back (and eventually cut out!) sugar, caffeine and alcohol. Start doing a bit of cardio exercise every day. Get outside once a day and enjoy the world God created!
8.) Talk to others. Sharing what you are going through with others can really help. Maybe there is a support group you can join. Or maybe, if a friend brings up the subject of stress, you can share your story with them. You'd be surprised how many people struggle with anxiety and don't talk about it. You're definitely not alone.
9.) Focus on the precious present moment. When you have anxiety, thinking about the future can be both scary and sad at the same time, because sometimes you just can't picture yourself being confident and happy again. But this is not reality -- it's just your anxiety. So stop thinking about the future. Stop ruminating over the past. Try to be present in the moment that you are in right now, and try to appreciate it.
10.) Let go and let God. I don't mean to sound cheesy, but this is really important. God will always keep you strong, no matter what struggle you face. Time and time again I have been able to look back and see God at work in my darkest moments. He will never abandon us. So pray like you've never prayed before -- start praying the rosary, and maybe look into some Novenas (St. Dymphna is a good saint to have in your corner when you have anxiety). Attend Mass as often as you can. Read the Word, especially parts of it that are comforting and assuring. And above all, don't give up hope! If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it!

I hope these ten tips can help you if you've felt like anxiety is taking over your life. Those of us who deal with anxiety are some of the most caring, creative, amazing people God has placed on this earth. When we really take Jesus' words to heart and set aside our worry, we can do amazing things!

Friday, 24 February 2017

Praying with the Pope: February Intentions


February may be almost over, but it's not too late, during these last few days leading into Lent, to add the Holy Father's prayer intentions to your own.

Starting this year, Pope Francis has presented a prepared prayer intention each month. I thought it would be a cool thing, and a way to spread awareness of what the Pope wants us to pray for, if I blogged about his intentions each month.

For February, Pope Francis asks that the faithful pray for the afflicted -- "that all those who are afflicted, especially the poor, refugees, and marginalized, may find welcome and comfort in our communities."

I feel like the Holy Father shared this intention with us at a very apt time. While politicians speak of building walls and take drastic action to keep people out -- marginalized, poor people who, often, live lives of danger and suffering -- we as Catholics, and all Christians in general, are called to be Jesus' hands in a hurting world.

It amazes me how quickly Christians can jump on board with some of U.S. President Donald Trump's more controversial decisions. I totally get why many faithful voted for Trump, and I'm not arguing that they did wrong (nor am I revealing which way I would have voted -- I'm Canadian, so it's a moot point), but it's one thing to vote for someone because they are the lesser of two bad choices -- it's wholly another to accept his decisions as good and true and anything even remotely resembling the way Jesus would want us to live our lives.

Here are a few Bible verses that remind us just how important it is not just to treat fellow believers with dignity and love, but to extend that to everybody in the world:

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:4

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? ... James 2:1-13

Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” ... Hebrews 13:1-25

And being even more specific, while we remember Pope Francis' monthly intention, let's take a look at these verses:

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. Leviticus 19:33-34

He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. Deuteronomy 10:18-19

Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt. Exodus 23:9

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Matthew 25:25-36
The Bible makes it pretty clear: as Christians, our job is not to build walls and keep out foreigners and refugees. Our job is to welcome them with open arms, with love and brotherhood and respect and dignity, and in doing so, sharing with them the light and love of Christ.

The world we live in can be a really frustrating place, especially for those of us who live simple lives, who have our own worries and duties and things that keep us busy every day. But one of the most powerful things we can do is pray! I pray, along with Pope Francis, that everyone in the world -- especially those who hold powerful political positions -- will come to know and act upon God's word.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

My breastfeeding journey

Motherhood -- it's a journey that helps us to grow, that forces us to take responsibility and that brings us a treasure trove of tender, unforgettable, life-affirming moments. Through the struggles and the exhaustion and the fear, we fight our way to peace, joy and unfathomable love.

Motherhood changes us, and the person we are after we have our children is not the person we were before. It often changes us for the better, in so many ways -- caring for a vulnerable little one means we put another human being before ourselves and our own wants and desires. It makes us really take stock of our lives and focus on becoming, every day, the person we want our children to look up to and feel safe and loved with.

But I feel like motherhood should also come with a disclaimer: guilt and worry. From the very moment a woman announces her pregnancy, she is often hit with questions that can leave her feeling out of her depth and overwhelmed. Is she going to give birth naturally? Will she choose a midwife or a doctor? Who is going to be allowed in the delivery room? Will she circumcise her baby, if she has a boy? Will she cloth diaper, use disposables or practice elimination communication? What style of parenting will she and her husband use? Will she breastfeed, pump and feed from a bottle, or opt to go with formula?

It goes on, and on and on. And as your child gets older, the questions don't stop -- they just change. How much screen time should will you give your child? How much outside time? Will you go back to work, and put them in day care? Or have a grandparent look after them? What about preschool? Are you going to homeschool, enroll them in Catholic school, or public? And what about activities? Are they going to be in soccer, in baseball, in gymnastics...it's really never ending.

I've learned, in my almost six years of motherhood, to listen to my instincts, and those of my husband. If something feels off, like overscheduling our five-year-old, we'll tune into that and let her choose one activity she really enjoys, per season, to take part formally in. If we feel our 20-month-old isn't quite ready for potty training, as much as we'd love him to be, we wait for him. If our daughter wants to put bubble-gum pink streaks in her hair, and other people are telling us we shouldn't but we don't seem to see a problem with it, we'll go for it.

But I can remember just how overwhelmed I felt when I first had my daughter, even though I was the type of mom who totally went overboard in preparation. I'm a planner, an organizer. When I'm faced with something life changing and stressful, I dive headfirst into a pile of books. I even brought a parenting book with me to the hospital, and was reading it after I'd given birth. The nurses got a kick out of that!

One of my biggest dreams was to have a natural, medication-free birth. Okay, okay, if the pain got too bad, I'd probably give in and let them dose me. I mean, who am I kidding? I don't have a high pain threshold. But all my life, people have told me that I'm a "sturdy girl" with "child-bearing hips". Lovely! So, when I ended up having a caesarean-section with my eldest child, I felt pretty disappointed. When I learned I'd need one, I burst into tears, and felt that somehow I was already failing this whole motherhood thing.

Thankfully, shortly after I'd had my baby I got over my disappointment in not delivering her the "natural" way. And when I got pregnant with my son three years later, I really pushed for a vaginal birth, but when it turned out I couldn't have one, I didn't feel nearly as let-down as I had when Boo was born.

One thing that I think really helped me feel better about not being able to deliver my babies vaginally was the fact that I was able to breastfeed both of them. But it wasn't easy at first. My daughter and I were separated for almost an hour after she was born -- even though we were both doing fine and she was a strong, healthy 10 lb. baby, the hospital I'd had her in six years ago didn't really do family-friendly C-sections. They whisked her away after giving me a quick peek at her lovely, squishy, red face, and I didn't see her again until after I had been cleaned up, and my husband, mother and sister all got to hold Boo before I did. When Bubs was born, the C-section was much more personal. As soon as he came out, they made sure he was alright and then bundled him up tightly. I remember the primal surge of joy I felt at hearing his cries, and I will never forget how he immediately stopped crying when they laid him on my chest, his gorgeous little face mere inches from mine. I was able to nurse him in the recovery room, which was wonderful.

Boo, asleep after a nursing session (that's my arm, not my boob!)

With Boo, my milk took six days to come in. I was a nervous first-time mother, but I was determined to breastfeed, so I made sure no one supplemented her with formula or gave her a pacifier. Back when she was born the hospital policy was not to let husbands or partners sleep over, so we C-section moms didn't have any help. They kept our babies in the nursery overnight for the first night and took them to us for a feeding. With Bubs, the hospital was much more baby-friendly, and my husband was able to stay the night with us and help me when I needed it. I also kept him nestled firmly at my side -- sleeping and awake. We'd finally ended up co-sleeping with our daughter after weeks of not getting any sleep at all, and it had turned out so well that I was determined to do the same with our son from the start.

That, in addition to the fact that my body had already done this once before, meant that my milk came in on about day two or three with our son, whereas it took six days to come in with our daughter. I remember how worried I was! She was gaining weight and no one suggested I supplement, so she must have been getting enough colostrum, but I will always remember the night that I just couldn't take the worry anymore -- I called up a La Leche League hotline and cried while telling them that I was worried I was starving my baby! The very next morning, I woke up and my milk had come in with a vengeance.

I ended up nursing Boo until she was about three-and-a-half years old. I never intended to go that long. I thought I'd for sure nurse her until she was one, and I can remember making a feeble attempt to wean her at that time, but it just didn't feel right. So again, I listened to my instincts. Nursing was just such a great way to be close to her, to bond with her, to calm her and best of all, to put her to sleep! I really think it helped us to develop the amazing bond that we still have today. There was something about seeing her as a chubby six-month-old and thinking, wow, that's all me -- my milk has made her so strong and healthy! When I was pregnant with her brother, my milk ended up drying up, and I knew I had to stop soon or she'd want to tandem nurse (and nursing an almost four-year-old and a newborn was not something I was keen on!), so we ended up slowly, gradually ending our nursing relationship.

When our son came along, nursing was a lot easier -- in some ways. It didn't hurt as much at first, but he did have pretty bad reflux, and my powerful milk ejection reflex meant he was often choking at the breast, which made him very angry and he would cry a lot. But after a few months we really got into the swing of things. He's now almost 20 months old, and he is still nursing.
Bubs, in a milk-induced sleep

So why am I writing this now? I think it's because I know my nursing journey is coming to an end. Recently, Bubs started wanting to nurse like a newborn again -- four or five times a night, and plenty throughout the day. Sometimes, it's really frustrating. But then I heard about a mom who went through the same thing when her little guy was 20 months old, and then at 25 months, he was hardly nursing at all anymore.

While sometimes I daydream about a time our kids can spend a night, or even a weekend (I dare to dream!) at their grandparents' house, or when I can go all night without being woken up for "boo-boos", I know that when I am truly done nursing I will miss it. I will miss gazing into my baby's eyes as he seeks comfort from my breast, and I will miss his little hand playing with my fingers. I'll miss tickling him and watching him giggle and try to drink milk at the same time. So I'm trying to savour all these nursing sessions, because I don't know how long they will last. Will I nurse him as long as I did my daughter? Probably not. Let's face it, after around five years of combined breastfeeding, I'm needing a long break. But who knows? Maybe it's something he won't want to let go of for awhile.

Breastfeeding is a controversial topic, but this post isn't about the controversy. It's not about whether breast is best, or whether we should cover up when we nurse in public. It's just about my personal journey. Breastfeeding is one of the things I've had to work the hardest at, and it's one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. It's one of the things that make me proudest to be who I am. And it's a gift that I have give/am giving to my children that will always live on -- in my memories, as well as in their health and wellbeing.

But I encourage all parents, regardless of how they feed their children or the other parenting choices they make, to just enjoy every single blessed, golden moment. They won't be little forever. Time is speeding by, and when all is said and done and they're full-grown adults living under a different roof than ours, we will have our cherished memories. So let's make a lot of them, and let's enjoy them. Let's look up from our phones and into their eyes. Let's press pause on social media and on life and tarry awhile in the childhood of our little ones. They'll never forget it, and we'll always remember.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

God, our teacher


God teaches us in many ways. Through His Word, we are able to glean wisdom and insight when we take the time to read it in a contemplative, meditative way. When we go to Mass, we are able to invite the Holy Spirit in when we take in the Sacraments and listen to the readings and the homily. In prayer, God shares many things with us, and reading about the lives of the saints is a great way to learn and grow in our faith.

Sometimes, God can be a subtle teacher -- maybe a verse will jump out at you during your Bible study session, or maybe the pastor's homily at Mass will really strike a chord with you. And then there are times when God speaks to you loudly and clearly.

I recently experienced the latter of the two learning styles earlier this week. It's funny, because the verses I read in the Bible, both in the Mass readings from last Sunday, and in the books of the New Testament I was working my way through, all had to do with the same thing: loving our enemies and the people that hurt us, and being forgiving as our Father in heaven forgives us.

It's much easier to hear about love and forgiveness to those that hurt us than to actually live it out, as I learned the very next day. You see, God put an opportunity in my path yesterday, but I didn't see it as such. I won't go into detail, but I regret to say that my habit of reacting in hurt and anger, unfortunately, put spiritual "blinders" on me so that I could not see the big picture -- I could not realize that God was using this trial to help me grow in my faith and to encourage me to form my responses and reactions to be more like Christ.

Thankfully, before things got too out of control, I was able to take some time to reflect, and to look back. And as I did, I realized, "Hey, this situation that I'm in...it's like God looked at what I was reading and studying in the Bible and thought, okay, you're doing great, but you need a little more practice. Here you go!"

I'm not saying that God orchestrated the event that upset me. Considering it involved someone close to me being pretty offensive about my faith, that's obvious. But what He did do, I'm sure of it, is use it as an opportunity to test me, and to teach me.

And what did I learn? Well, first and foremost, I learned that I still have a long way to go to become more Christ-like. Which is totally normal, by the way. This is a lifelong process that we are taking part of. But I also learned that reacting in anger, and having a spirit of anger and resentment, rarely if ever does anything to the object of our bitterness. Instead, it hurts our own selves, and those we love. It's so much better to follow the example of Christ, to turn the other cheek and to keep on forgiving.

I hope, and pray, that God will continue to guide me as I grow in my faith. Whatever His ways of teaching, I pray that I can accept them with joy, and know that he is using it all for my good. After all, as Philippians 1:6 says, And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.