Monday, November 28, 2016

advent - week one - hope...

How can it be Advent already? It's only four weeks until Christmas. FOUR weeks!! 

Insanity I say!!

The older I get, the faster time goes. I'll never forget one spring evening, when I was in high school, my Mom and I were chatting in the kitchen while doing dishes. I kept bemoaning the fact that summer seemed so far off. It was taking for-eeevvv-eerrr to get here and I was impatient. 

"I promise you Mary Beth," Mom said with smile on her face. "One day you are going to take a look around and beg God to stop time for just a little while."

I looked at her like she had seven eyes and mumbled "no way" under my breath. That part of me has not changed over the years. Impatience thy name is Mary. Ha!

Once again, Mom was right. Today, as I type these words, I am tempted to ask God to slow time down just a bit. It would be nice to just sit for a moment and take it all in without time passing like a speeding train. I miss the slower pace of my youth. The world seems to be spinning at a much faster rate these days and it's challenging to not feel like I am missing something. 

It's one of the reasons I am actually glad that Advent has arrived to bring an order to my days. It's something that has been missing since I left my job at the end of September. Order, a way of making my way through the day and feeling like I actually accomplished something at the end of it. 

I think this has been my greatest challenge since Courtney died. All this time without an assigned schedule. If Courtney did anything for my days as a caretaker, it was to help me focus on the next thing that needed doing. Whether it be giving meds, a tube feeding or taking her to a therapy appointment, that girl kept me on a schedule. I went from her twenty-four hour round the clock care to watching two precious pre-schoolers who required a schedule all their own, to a 50 hour a week high stress job working for the church.I spent eleven months just trying to survive that schedule.   

Now my days are much quieter and I get to choose what to fill them with. Somehow it's peaceful and unsettling all at the same time. I guess some things never change. I felt the same way when I was caring for Courtney. I suppose that's just my natural internal ying and yang. 

Today is the first Monday in Advent and this week's theme is "hope". I have said many times that where there is love, there is hope. Where there is hope there is joy. Where there is joy there is love and so on. It is my own little circle of life if you will. 

"...the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Matthew 4:16

This is the season of preparation and of waiting for Our Savior to be born. For me it's a season filled with the deep emotions of love and grief. 

Two years ago I sat by the lights of the family Christmas tree, holding my sweet daughter in my arms, waiting for God to call her home to him. It was a time of great anticipation for our family. Our hearts were breaking in one breath and in another we were hopeful for the day Courtney would be whole and free, running into her Beloved's arms in heaven.

Last night, I sat by that same tree filled with so many memories represented in the ornaments hanging delicately from each branch. As I stared at what we now call "Courtney's Tree", I allowed my mind to run through those last weeks of Courtney's life. 

What amazes me two years later, is how much joy and peace there was in those last days. We were at peace with letting her go because she was never ours in the first place. Courtney belonged to God and God alone. We just got to love her this side of heaven, which was our greatest joy. We laughed in those days, we cried and we poured ourselves into loving her so we would have something to sustain us in the empty dark days to follow. 

When I remember her smile, my heart is a little lighter and I am filled with gratitude for our time together. My life has been forever changed by her. Courtney has placed her handprint on my heart and it will never be the same.

I don't want it to be the same. 

Love changes things. Loving people changes things. 

Mary's "yes" to God was the beginning of a love story that changed the world. There is hope in the light of the Saviors birth my friends. There is hope in the light of everyone's life, whether they still was this earth or have gone on ahead of us. When we love, we are pouring ourselves out just as Jesus did on the cross. 

We are each allowed to choose God's love or reject it. 

I choose to accept it. Just as I chose to love my daughter throughout her life, just as I choose to love my son and my husband through theirs. By choosing love, I choose life. By choosing love, I choose hope. By choosing love, I choose the suffering that comes from giving my heart. They go hand in hand because life and love are a messy business.  

I look at Courtney's tree and I see a lifetime of love, hope and joy. I feel the grief that comes from loving so well. I know in my heart that by choosing to hope in the mercy of my Savior, I am choosing to live in the light of His love. 

It is not an easy life I have chosen but a good one. As we go through this Advent, I pray that you too will choose hope. Wherever you are, whatever you are facing in your day to day life. 

Remember this from Corinthians...Love never fails. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

I feel like this sums up this first weeks theme well. God didn't fail me in taking my daughter home to Him. I didn't fail Him in my grief and anger over this event. I trust Him with my life, that includes the good, the bad and the ugly. He asks nothing of me but to love Him and those He brings into my life. 

By loving my daughter, I loved Him. By loving my husband, I love Him. By loving my son, I love Him. 

So my friends, let's do this together shall we? Persevere in hope and love without condition. All while waiting for Our Lord to come once again. 

Happy First week of Advent! 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

feasting together...

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving. I know we did. It was filled with good food, great conversation and so much laughter. I am grateful that three of us got to spend the day together as a family, along with dear friends. 

We started the day with Mass. It's the one place where we can all be together again, the four of us. Courtney was there, right in the midst of things. There is a moment during consecration, where heaven meets earth, and in that moment I always feel my daughter's presence so powerfully. 

The older I get the more grateful I am for my faith and for my parents handing down their love of the sacred traditions to me and my siblings, including the Mass. It was a glorious gift to receive and in turn I was able to give thanks for ALL we have been blessed with. It was a wonderful way to start the day. 

Next up, we watched the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and commented on the horrid lip synching and inappropriate bump and grinding that passed for dancing. Then it was off to the kitchen for Christmas Carol singing and lots of potato peeling and chopping. 

Spending this special time with people who have walked through the fire with us was an incredible gift. Whenever our two families get to spend time together, you can bet there will be food and laughter, and plenty of both. 

DQ had brined the turkey for almost 24 hours and after a swing through the oven, it was time to carve the bird and get down to the feasting. 

It was a beautiful spread. If ever there was a holiday where the table should be burgeoning with deliciousness, it's Thanksgiving. There was turkey, honey baked ham, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, beets w/mint, pumpkin dinner rolls, amazing gravy and homemade cranberry sauce. 

It was heaven my friends. Absolute heaven. Every mouthful was a delight to the senses. Even better than the food, was the conversation. When our two families get together, it's a hoot. There are stories shared, chaos ensues during the pre-dinner poker game and the laughter rolls throughout our feasting. 

This year was no exception. There were actual tears rolling down my face by the time we were clearing the table. It felt wonderful to laugh that much. It had been far too long. Good friends.They make walking through the trails of life just a little bit easier.

How was your Thanksgiving? I pray you were able to spend time with those you love. It makes everything that much better doesn't it?  

Time for a leftover turkey sandwich...yet another reason to be grateful for Thanksgiving. Into Advent we go...four weeks until Christmas!! 

Monday, November 21, 2016

thankful heart...

In a few weeks we will be celebrating the second anniversary of our Courtney's death. Two years. How is that even possible? Time seems to spill through my fingers like water these days and I am struggling to keep pace with it. 

How am I? 

Well, being completely open and honest, there are good days, great days, hard days and days that are like black holes of sadness. 

This time of year feels sacred to me, not just as a Catholic, but as a mother who has faced the hardest day any mother can face, and lived to tell the tale. 

There is a heaviness to my heart that comes with the change of seasons. One day there is a brisk wind and the leaves begin to fall and the next it feels like a bracing frigid wind that blasts relentlessly and you have a hard time catching your breath as you brace yourself for more to come. 

I miss my daughter. I miss her smile. I miss her laughter. I miss her beautiful blonde curls. I miss the sweet smell of her freshly washed hair as she snuggled into me waiting for her nightly story time. I miss the weight of her in my arms. 

I think I miss that the most. 

On the best days, I laugh as I share a memory with a friend about my determined feisty Courtney. On the good days, I will hold a photograph in my hands, tracing her face, grateful for the knowledge that God now holds her close to Him. On the hard days, I hear a song that jolts my memory and stops me in my tracks, making my hands shake and tears spill at the drop of a hat. On those dark black hole days, there is weeping, begging God to restore my broken heart and to be my strong tower in the midst of one hell of a grief storm. 

Most people have moved on in these two years. They don't talk about her as much, choosing to live in the present and I totally get that. It is the circle of life after all. 

For me, I need to talk about her. I need to share her legacy of love with others. I need to speak her name. It's how it will always be for me, her mother, her caregiver, her protector, her voice on earth. To speak her name, is to speak God's love and faithfulness out into the world and the world these days needs all the help it can get.  

Courtney means "strength of God" and my daughter could not have carried a better name, for she was fiercely strong from the first moment of her life to the last. Her middle name Elizabeth means "God is abundance". This name is shared with me and my paternal Grandmother. We were named for Elizabeth, Mary's cousin and John the Baptist's mother. She was woman of tremendous faith who never wavered in her faith in and trust of the Lord and miracles sprang from that sacred relationship. 

Strength and God's abundance. Words that aptly describe my daughter. God gave his strength in abundance to my daughter and myself as we traveled twenty-two years of life together. Not an easy journey for one second but one filled with faith, grace and so much joy. 

This week is Thanksgiving. It's a time for families to gather and share a meal, keeping at the forefront what they are thankful for. It's a time for abundant grace to spill out into the community of our extended family and friends as well. It's a beautiful thing to celebrate. 

What makes it challenging for me is the realization that someone is missing from my table and that someone will not be returning. 

So what's a mama to do? 

Well, I take it one day at a time as I have always done. I ask God to direct my steps, my words, and my hands as I serve. I offer back to God my tears and sorrow, as a gift in recognition of the love He showed me on the cross. His mother wept for Him, so he understands my tears fro Courtney. I don't hide them, I allow them to spill over my heart until the well is dry. 

When one has loved hard, without holding back the grief that comes from that loss is deep and never fully departs. 

Yes, there is joy. Yes, there is laughter. Yes, life is very good. 


My heart was shattered with Courtney's last breath and only the Potters hands can repair it, cementing it back together with His abundant love, mercy and grace. 

I am healed in Him who gave His life for me. 

One day, God willing, I will hear Courtney's laughter again and I will run my hands through those curls and I will know once more the weight of her in my arms. 

Until then, with a most thankful heart, I will gather with my remaining family and dear friends and celebrate this beautiful life we've been given. I will praise God for the gift of being her mother this side of heaven and give thanks for the lessons she taught me. 

Happy Thanksgiving my friends. Know that I am praying for each of you and I thank you for ALL of your prayers for me and my family. 

So very grateful for each of you. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

prayer and fasting...

Things will be quite here as I take the next two days to be in prayer and fasting for our country as many of us head to the polls on Tuesday.

No matter your political affiliations or party, or the outcome of this election, ...remember my friends that we aspire to be ONE nation, UNDER GOD, INDIVISIBLE with LIBERTY and JUSTICE for ALL!

May God BLESS America and all who serve this nation here and abroad.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

all holy men and women...pray for us...

Yesterday was the Feast of All Saints, a Solemnity (a high holy day) in the Catholic Church. It's a day set aside to honor the Communion of Saints, those holy men and women who have gone before us having attained heaven through the witness and examples of their lives lived for Christ. 

Today is the Feast of All Souls which is where we honor the dead, especially those in our own families who have died. During Mass today and yesterday, I just kept imagining my Courtney praising God, every moment of every day, feeling nothing but pure joy. 

PURE JOY...ALL the time...

Courtney - October 2014

She has been on my mind and heart quite a bit lately. I thought it was just the fact that we are getting close to the second anniversary of her death. However, I realized today that's not the only reason. 

I have stayed very, very busy for the last year and a half. So busy that I would usually fall into bed at night exhausted and then get back up and at it early the next day. Not a lot of brain space available for grief or thinking deep thoughts in general. 

Now I am home, writing about my life with Courtney, giving talks about the dignity of life and the lessons she taught me and it's proving to be cathartic but also bringing ALL the big feels to the surface. It's not tears all the time praise God. There is laughter, deep love and tremendous gratitude for the gift of who our daughter was to us and those who knew of her. 

It makes me appreciate even more the ebb and flow of the church year. The beauty of Allhallowtide, of beginnings and endings, giving a purpose to the suffering of this mother. The fact that death has no sting, no power over any Christian, because we were made for eternity with God. 

None of this makes being without Courtney one bit easier for this Mama and my empty arms and broken heart, but it does give some clarity to my grief. It helps me to pull myself out of the pit that would swallow me completely any given day if I gave into the anguish and sadness.

I am grateful for the truth of my Catholic faith, for the gift of sacred tradition and sacred scripture and for the beauty of  Mass. It is where heaven meets earth and the one place I am closest to my daughter who has gone before me. 

That veil between heaven and earth is so thin, yet it cannot be traversed. I am forced to wait, with great longing, for the day when I will see her again and hold her in my arms again. It's a hard waiting but I don't get to make those decisions. God does. 

Courtney and her Daddy - November 2014
I trust him with all I am and all I have, including my life, my husband and children. After all He gave them to me, so they are His to do with as He pleases. This is extremely difficult for me a mere human, filled with sin. I take it day by day and it's been almost two years since I last held her in my arms. 

It doesn't get any easier like people say. The grief becomes a part of you, like breathing. You don't think about it, you just do it. Then there comes a time when it becomes difficult and you use all your energy to just take the next breath. 

This is all part of life, loving unconditionally and letting go. The Blessed Mother did it, so now it's my turn. Through her intercession, I will do what God needs me to do. I will fall and when I do, I will get back up again and try harder. 

My daughter taught me that. 

Life it to be lived, one prayer at a time. 

All holy men and women...pray for us...

Monday, October 31, 2016

getting my sea legs back...

In the first year after Courtney died, I didn't spend much time in the kitchen on a regular basis. We lived off of the contents of the deep freezer and then when I went to work for the church, I spent more time eating at my desk than I did at our kitchen table. I have been home now for a month and I finally feel like I am getting my homemaking sea legs back again. 

This morning, after a rough night of insomnia and a serious neuropathy flare up, I was determined to start the week off well. I made a house cleaning schedule and then got to work on the upstairs bathroom. After scrubbing that clean, I put in the first load of laundry then headed into the kitchen to get to work on dinner. 

I had taken out a bag of ham bones I found in the deep freezer. I put one in the crock pot with carrots, onions and celery and a bag of dried 15 Bean Soup. Add in two dried bay leaves and a teaspoon of dried thyme. Covered with water, set it for eight hours and moved on. 

Next up, I put the other ham bone in a big pot on the stove with more carrots, onions, celery, dried bay leaf then added in a bag of dried split peas, put it on simmer and three hours later, we had lunch for the next week. 

I will be making rosemary and parmesan drop biscuits a bit later and dinner will be set for tonight. The leftovers will be put in glass mason jars and frozen for one night in the future when I need a quick meal for whatever reason. 

Feeling like I did well today in this re-establishment of my homemaking skills. My guys are both food people and this is definitely their love language. It feels good to show my love for them in this way. I know they are gonna be so very happy on this brisk fall evening. 

Soup for everyone!! 

As for tomorrow night's dinner?? 

Not a clue my friends. Time for a meal plan me thinks. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

the bend in the road...

This morning dawned grey and cloudy with a strong fall breeze kicking up the leaves the tree have given over to the change of seasons. I opened my laptop and there in my email was today's Blessed is She devotional written

Why is it I always forget these things? 

I wrote it two months ago in the middle of some serious discernment over leaving my job and striking out on a new path. It is a decision that has been both invigorating and downright terrifying to live out. 

Who knew how hard making that choice would end up being? Who knew that this choice would bring forth some unresolved emotional issues from when Courtney was alive and things were more financially difficult? Who knew that being in a super stressful job would cause health issues that are slowly beginning to resolve themselves now that I have removed myself from the source of the stress? 

Who knew? 

Well, God knew for starters

He always does. 

God knew the desires of my heart even before I recognized them myself. He has moved mountains that I have yet to know about. He has guided my steps and encouraged my heart and Jerry's throughout all of this.

He knows that my willingness to take chances and leap without a parachute does not always make for a happy husband. Jerry is strong, measured and steady. I am spontaneous and passionate, often leaping without looking. It makes for an entertaining marriage for sure.  

So how am I supposed to know how to handle the challenges? How am I supposed to understand what God is asking of me? How do I move through the difficulties to get to the good part? 

By putting on the armor of God my friends. By starting my day with prayer and gratitude. By praising the Lord above for all that I have been given, the good, the bad and the heartbreaking. Then lifting my needs before Him. No matter what comes, He is with me. 

I pray daily to have the courage to want what God wants for me and the fortitude to just keep walking with Him, no matter how many lane changes or u-turns are required on my behalf. 

To be courageous and to bend my will according to His, that is the goal. One day at a challenge at a time. 

For more encouragement...You can read the devotional here...

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