An Update on my Prognosis…..

imageAs many of you may know, we miscarried a little one (8 weeks in utero, “Lourdes”) last December….

As some of you may know, my miscarriage was complicated.

After I saw the little one with no heartbeat by ultrasound on December 10th, I waited to pass the baby naturally at home (as I had miscarried my first little one that I lost).  Christmas came and went, New Year’s came and went…. And still, though light bleeding continued, I did not pass the baby.  I felt more and more pregnant (read: incredibly nauseous, tired, and light-headed) and my tummy continued to grow….

Gradually, my husband and I began to think, is it possible?  Is it possible that there was a ‘vanishing twin’ but another baby was ‘in there’?

I knew that ultimately I would need the ‘dreaded D&C’ if the baby didn’t pass.  And my wonderful OB was on standby at any time I was ready for the D&C.  But I was afraid…. what if there was life, and I got the D&C, and I ended the life of another child?  I hesitated, until it was January 13th and I could stand it no more.  I had to see what was ‘going on in there.’  The thought of carrying around a dead baby, or an unknown live one… It was too much.  So I made my appointment for the next day.

What I saw on the ultrasound screen was like nothing I had ever seen in all my previous ultrasounds…. My uterus was filled with a huge (grapefruit sized) tumor.  While the baby had died, the placental tissue developed a ‘life of its own’ and continued to release hCG (pregnancy hormone) at a rapidly growing rate, and was continuing to grow.  This is known as a ‘partial molar pregnancy’, and can develop into a condition where benign placental tissue begins to spread throughout the body (cancer-like), most especially targeting the lungs, or even worse, it could develop into a cancerous condition.  At that point, my doctor warned that if I were to miscarry this tumor, it would be life threatening, because it had attached itself to my whole uterus, and would cause a rather instant deadly hemorrhage.

He made an urgent appointment the next morning, January 15th, where I underwent a general anesthesia D&C.  It went well, and while I needed a few days to recover, it was successful.  However, I still needed to return weekly for blood tests to monitor my hCG levels to make sure they dropped eventually to zero.  It could take anywhere from a couple months to six months to determine if the molar pregnancy would return….

And so I went in for all the blood tests, and gradually, the hCG declined, and my health improved.   During this time, I could not conceive so that we could be sure that we could properly monitor the condition.  To be honest, I wasn’t interested at all in conceiving, much as I adore babies and children, as I wasn’t sure I could undergo all of that again….

In the month of March, my levels had returned to low hCG, a healthy level, and I felt relieved, though still hoped and prayed that this condition would not return. Toward the end of April, I had my final check-up with my OB/GYN to do a final ultrasound and make sure that my uterus was clear of all suspicious tissue.  I was very nervous for this appointment, because the last few ultrasounds I had had were daunting and not so ‘fun and exciting’ as baby ones can be…. He was pleased with how everything looked, although there was a cyst growing in my uterus that he “wasn’t too concerned about,” but that we would monitor.

image

(This is a picture of the cyst.)

Whew!  I had held my breath throughout the ultrasound, hoping there wouldn’t be another tumor…

We were grateful and thought we were done with this appointment…

And then my doctor moved the ultrasound probe to a different angle…

image

…and said, “why look!  There’s a little baby in there!”

I literally sat up (which is tough to do with one of those internal ultrasounds.

“WHAT?!?!  Nuh uh.  That’s impossible!  WHAT?!?!”

He said, “Nope!  There’s a nice strong heartbeat!  Congratulations!”

My husband and I were in shock.  For real.  I was five or six weeks, but who knew because I had zero cycle and zero fertile signs… and I didn’t want to get my hopes up.

We went back May 15th, exactly 5 months from my D&C… I tried to guard my heart.  I didn’t know what I would see (even though I have been deathly nauseous… but I had all that before with a tumor…)

And we saw this:

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Baby had grown well, and was nearly 11 weeks….

And so, my friends, SURPRISE!!!!!  (For us, too!)  Please pray for us, as I am still very nervous, although I feel rotten as ever (yay!) and I can’t suck in my tummy anymore at Sunday Liturgy and around my friends.

Love to you… And thank you for all those prayers… Please keep ’em coming!!!

shalimamma

Emptied… When Lent Seems Longer than 40 Days…

Ash Wednesday Symbol

Officially, Lent has begun.

But for me, the last two months have felt like 60 days of Good Friday. So when Ash Wednesday dawned last week, it felt almost anti-climactic… Almost a holiday, because there was at least an official reason to feel hungry and dark and repentant and thirsty for God’s mercy…

When we lost our little one in-utero last December right around the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, there was, of course, grieving.  The grieving was quite a bit deeper this time (which surprised me) than my grief from my first miscarriage.  I don’t know if the unusual complications surrounding the miscarriage, or the interesting line-up of events that happened afterwards, or dramatic hormone shifts, or the fact that it was around Christmas, or that I had actually seen her on an ultrasound (as opposed to my other miscarriage), or a few interactions from some of the ones close to me that made this one different, but it was.  “Lourdes” took me a little longer to grieve for some reason.

And then, it seemed, the darkness surrounding me continued, and some additional events came as sudden “arrows”, as I scrambled to find my humor and my “purpose” again and desperately searched for a solution to the unique sense of abandonment I felt.  One could say I experienced some post partum depression.  But being that I am under excellent medical care, I have come to realize that the reason is different than your standard hormone imbalance.

Something was changing in me… I was being emptied, beyond what I thought possible, and while there were a few days in there where I wasn’t sure why the Good Lord still had me on this earth, I can see that He wanted me closer to Him.  He wanted me to finally admit that He is my everything.  And once I admitted this truth, He started to reveal deeper insights to me.  Many of them were painful at first… But He has supplied the courage to face some of these inspirations, even though many nights I have felt anxious and have relied on meditative prayer to be able to fall asleep.

Probably my biggest revelation has been that I am utterly broken and totally dependent on the Lord.  We spend so much time in our society parading around “our gifts and talents and trophies and dreams”, as well as clinging to the “ever-positive” (note: ‘positive’ is not the same as true joy), that we can lose sight (many times purposely) of our own brokenness.  Why do we want to look at our weakness?  Shouldn’t we brag about our blessings?  Shouldn’t we boast about our strengths?  Isn’t this “giving glory to God”?  Well, I would say, sometimes it is, so long as we humbly recognize with confidence the gifts that God has given us.  But that thin, thin line between praising God for our gifts and boasting about them in order to receive praise is, well, oh so thin.  We can easily get off track.  I know I certainly did.  And when things didn’t pan out exactly how I wanted them to, over the past seven years especially, I ran out of any kind of denial or escape within my thoughts and dreams, and I came face to face with my own true brokenness and dependence on God.

Much of my meditating (many times while in solitude and even while feeling a deep sense of desolation) has brought me to a new place, and yet, an old place: the place where my vocation began.  Together with my husband, I went back to our roots, where we met, which was in a L’arche community.  I’ve mentioned L’arche before, the place where “assistants live full-time with mentally and physically disabled adults.”  It’s the place where I came fully back to the Faith, and the place where I met my husband (who was in the Navy, but volunteering occasionally there at the time.)  My attraction to the original spirituality that led me to my vocation flooded back relentlessly, and I had to revisit it… so I decided to just start downloading the writings of the founder Jean Vanier, as well as the prolific meditations of Henri Nouwen, who was greatly touched after his experience in a L’arche community in Canada.  I devoured their writings within the last month… and I realized, this is who I am, my spirituality within my Catholic Faith.

This spirituality is what led me to even start my blog.  This spirituality explains why I am drawn to those who are marginalized and broken… because we all are, and because that is where Christ brings us together, and where He is glorified.

This doesn’t mean I am called to start a L’arche community, or live within one again.  But rather, it means that I need to go back to applying what the Lord put into my heart: a missionary spirit, one that cannot ignore other’s pain, but one also that is not meant to wither away alone, without a strong faithful presence.  It is easy as a stay-at-home mom, even if we run various small businesses, to become self-absorbed and alone, without a sense that even if we have a large family, we, too, can reach out (as we are able.)   At the very least, we can walk with others who also embrace their dependence on God, as a strong source of support to each other within the Body of Christ.

This revelation also revealed another place where I feel emptied, and where God wants to fill my open heart and hands.  Up until now, I (and my family) have kind of determined much of our path.  We made decisions that had to do with our desires, which were good ones much of the time, and which were discerned through prayer, but weren’t as deep as where we are now.  Now we are at the shore, with our nets, saying, “Lord, we have toiled all night, and have caught nothing.”  (Luke 5:5)

Now I stand at this shore, quite blind, actually.  I don’t know the future, and for one of the few times in my life, I am somewhat baffled as to what on earth God is doing and where on earth He is leading us.  I used to have this clear picture in my head of my dreams… but many of them, especially the ones that searched for “heaven on earth” became sand.  Now, my dreams have become more simple… To know, love, and serve the Lord, to live out my vocation as well as I can, and to love as deeply as I can… to persevere, to live my Faith…

And so I stare at Him on the shore, with ashes on my forehead, emptied of not only life within my womb (which belonged to Him anyway), but also emptied of my near-sighted little dreams and my attachment to fear… and I stretch out my hand to His already outstretched, wounded Hand…

By this Easter, I hope to have grasped it more fully…..

Much love,

shalimamma

Credit for picture above to St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church

Excuses, Excuses… Are We Ashamed of Our Children?

green teeth nateA long, long time ago, in a galaxy far away, when I “only” had two children, I did things called “play dates.”

My first two children were (and are) sweet and quiet and compliant children, while my young mama friend’s play date son was a firecracker of a little boy… (a wonderful temperament I would soon discover with my third.  Wink, wink.)  He had the energy of a category 5 hurricane contained within a soda bottle, with the cap slightly open… bursting out unpredictably.  I was then, as I am now, the kind of parent who’s not likely to meddle in another parent’s child raising techniques.  I don’t parent other people’s kids, I don’t give condescending looks, I don’t give unsolicited advice… mainly because I HATE it when others have done it with me.  Sidenote: if you have one or two kids, it’s “adorable” when you give me unsolicited parenting advice with my 9.  I might smile, I might be silent, but inside I have a bit of advice of my own that most likely involves several swear words and is certainly not charitable.  But I digress…

So back to this new mama… There I was, not saying anything, being cordial, being supportive, loving on my own little ones, and she breaks out with this gem: “Oh, um, my son has ODD.  So that explains his behavior.”  My response was, “Huh?  What’s ODD?”  “Oh, it’s Oppositional Defiance Disorder.  He simply doesn’t follow rules or listen to me.  Oh well.  It’s tough being a mother of someone with this kind of disability.”

I was stunned.  The child was around three years old, he simply was high-spirited and strong-willed, and his parents were new at this (so they hadn’t figured out time-outs or any kind of leadership or discipline yet.).  And she felt she needed to make an excuse for him…  Even when I hadn’t said something like, “Why is your son’s head spinning around like a possessed child?”  Nope, he was her child, so I felt he was her business.  Unless a parent’s child is hurting mine, I believe it is their prerogative if they’re OK with their child punching them in the face or biting them in the arm.  I might not invite them over to play with my kids anymore, as I don’t enjoy watching kids beat up their parents, or anybody, but in the end, they are the ones who have to live with their parenting, as I have to live with mine.

Fast forward to myself, several years later, when we discovered that our son had Aspergers Syndrome.  I found MYSELF saying things like, “Oh, he has Asperger’s, so that’s why we have to not let him watch this intense movie, or that’s why he’s crying at the age of 10 over spilled legos, or that’s why he just stomped off and slammed the door.”  Sure, I’ve seen the condescending “wow” looks from other parents who either don’t have this particular challenge, or perhaps have different ones that are even worse, but overlook them for their own children.  I always felt I needed to “explain” his behavior, as if his personality and unique challenges were something to make an excuse for.

Turns out, I was embarrassed.  And not just with him.  I’ve also “explained” that so-and-so is in her “terrible threes”, or so-and-so is strong-willed, or so-and-so is hormonal, or so-and-so is shy, or so-and-so was a preemie so that explains why she looks teeny for her age… and the list goes on….

And why would I be embarrassed by my own beloved children?

The answer is simple: pride.

MY pride.  Which is ridiculous.  Because if I were to define myself by all my disabilities and flaws and shortcomings, I would be leaving out who I actually am: a Princess Daughter of the King, worthy of Love, infused with far more gifts than flaws, a person loved by God and given a unique mission that only I, out of the entire universe, can accomplish…. the same as each of my children.

When my Loving Father looks at me, as well as my loved ones, I doubt they see, “Oh, that’s a person with OCD, ADHD, prone to anxiety and depression at times, foot-in-mouth syndrome (FIMS? ;) ), earthy, legally blind, etc etc etc…..  No, I think they see me by my name.  Which is how we should all see each other.

I have been blessed to know parents whose child has an obvious condition or disability, where I have never heard one “excuse” or “explanation” from them unless asked, or unless relevant, or unless they are sharing a true struggle with a close friend.  This is an inspiration to me.

And, excuses don’t stop with parents diagnosing their children with every “condition” on the planet.  Our society is ashamed of many classes of people.  People tend to be defined by their disability (and some people even define THEMSELVES by their disability.)  Why is a person called “a Down’s Syndrome person”?  Why aren’t they simply called by their name?

Why do people define themselves by Bipolar, or depression, or their addiction, or their insecurities?  You know, I’ve stopped letting people off the hook.  I’m not going to grant you special permission to beat up your wife, or your kids, or neglect yourself or your family, or not seek healing/treatment, or not seek work (if you CAN work), or be a jerk, or wallow in despair… you know why?  Because I’m most likely just as disabled as you are, if not more.  And I’m not letting MYSELF off the hook anymore either.

Yes, support groups and specified treatments are effective realities.  Denying any struggle carries its own set of consequences (as I’ve addressed in previous blogs.)  I absolutely love and welcome when people share their burdens with me.  It opens a door and builds a bridge and allows us to walk together on this tough journey called life.

But excuses?  No.  Not for ourselves, and certainly not for our children.  Excuses imply “throwing in the towel”, defeat, shame…

We each have a name.  And we are loved.  Whether people understand our unique challenges or not.

Wishing you a Blessed Advent Season,

shalimamma

P.S. The picture at the top is my wonderful… high-spirited, with many gifts… son, my number three.  :)

Is the Glass Half Empty, or Half Full? The New American “Religion”…

Pitcher of Red Beverage“Whatever you did, you’ve been officially labeled a disturber of the peace.” -Frodo to Gandalf, Fellowship of the Ring

 

“Bruce: Hello, how ’bout you, mate? What’s your problem?

Marlin: Me? I don’t have a problem.

Bruce: Ohh, okay. DENIAL!!!!”  –Finding Nemo

 

“Pilate said to Him, ‘What is truth?’…” -John 18:38

 

“YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!!!” –A Few Good Men

 

I have been toiling over my thoughts behind this article for some time now… mainly because this subject been rolling around in my head for years.  Actually, for decades.

I was one of those kids who started off caring deeply, in a world that is largely apathetic.  I am blessed to have come from a family who also cares deeply, intensely, about the most important aspects of life… but there are times when this “blessing” as far as my outlook has felt more like a curse.  In the past, I have envied those who could be numb when all kinds of horror surrounded them, or mostly blind so that they don’t even have to be numb.  These people can only see the nose in front of their face (if that), and are only really concerned by topics like getting faster internet service, or whether it’s going to be rainy the next day, or how much money is in their little bank account.

There are also those who are not naturally numb or indifferent, but choose to be blind and numb through drugs or other substances.  They just can’t handle the depth of feeling anymore, so they shut it off.  My hunch has always been that those who turn to drugs probably “feel deeper” than most, and don’t know what to do with this intensity… so they shut it off, whether it be with street or prescription drugs.  I get it.  Because I’ve been there.

But there is another phenomenon floating around and spreading these days that has me more concerned than those who would promote heroin use.  Because most people agree that heroin use isn’t a good idea.  We all kind of know that.  Even the addicts know it.

There is a new drug in town.  A deadly one.  And actually, I’m not so sure it’s new.  But it’s gaining in popularity with leaps and bounds.

I call it “False Optimism.”  Which equates ultimately to “Denial.”

Allow me to explain….  Most of us have heard the “glass half-full OR half-empty” question… if you answer half full, you are an “optimist.”  If you answer half empty, you are a “pessimist”.  But I have a third answer to this question:  BOTH answers are true.  The glass is half empty AND half full.  And if you deny either one of those, you are not living in the fullness of truth.  The glass can’t be half empty without it being half full.  It is not one or the other.  It is BOTH.

The phenomenon that is spreading (with the help of ‘health and wealth folks’ like Joel Osteen) is that the glass is only half full.  And that’s all you need to know.  Just focus.  Focus on the full.  Ignore the empty.  And you’ll be good as gold.  You may even acquire more gold.  Who knows.

To clarify, it is good to focus on God’s blessings and on joy and hope, etc…  Goodness knows, I need to focus on the reality of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty for my own survival.  But He allowed us to be on this earth to see the CONTRAST of His goodness as compared to the “work of the enemy” in this world, and this contrast should inspire us to gear up for battle, to fight the half-empty glass that the world offers, to get engaged, to do good, to love, and to stand up for the weak who are being persecuted, harmed, and even killed.  If we only focus on half of the truth, we are missing out, and we run the danger of being easily deceived.  If anyone tells you that the glass is only half empty, they will lead you down a road of depression and despair, and an addiction to melancholy wailing and bitterness galore.  If anyone tells you that the glass is only half full, they are lying to you, and they are usually selling something, whether you’d like to admit it or not.  This kind of false optimism usually involves the “glazing over of eyes” and the “drinking of Kool-Aid” and can end up pitting you against loved ones who actually care deeply for you, or who can see the peddling salesman a mile off… whether they are selling a way of thinking or a product of some sort, it usually results in you handing over your mind, your heart, your money, your family, and eventually all of your ‘extra’ time.  And you won’t see it if you are focusing on a fake glass of water that is half full but not half empty.  Actually, your eyes may be crossed, behind those rose-colored glasses.  Let’s hope no one’s getting truly harmed while you are staring at that glass, trying to make yourself believe…

I say that last sentence because I’ve actually seen equal harmful lasting consequences from the “silver-lining crowd” as I have from the ‘drag your chin on the ground and scowl at people” crowd.  I’ve seen people “smile and wave” while their lives are literally falling apart (a tragic example is that of Robin Williams recently), and I’ve seen “down in the dumps” folks that drive every last charitable person away.  Neither way works, and neither way leads to truth.

I’ve seen it over and over again, and I have experienced it several times first-hand.  Only, it seems (praise God) that my eyes couldn’t stay glazed for too long, or down in the dumps for too long.  Eventually, I become a “disturber of the peace” by asking questions.  I’m not content with depression (or a life-sentence of mental illness with no desire for healing), whether from myself or those I hang around, and I’m not content with glazed eyes that are oblivious to reality and obviously fake with a big huge mote around their heart (and intellect, sometimes) and a big huge shiny-toothed sparkly smile.  Pulease.  I’m trying to stifle laughter and tears at the same time here.

And, I have discovered that the only people who can handle my questions are either humble (or trying to be, as I feebly try), or desperate for truth as I am, or both.  If people have glazed eyes or they have something to hide, and you are a Truth Seeker, they will fear you.  They may even hate you, and slander you.  If you are one of these, like me, you are a small percentage of the world.  The majority of people are conflict-avoiders, or fakers who could win an Emmy for their red carpet performance, or people who truly don’t care, so long as their rent is paid and their convenience and comfort aren’t challenged.  But you, the one who cares, who hungers, who knows there’s more to life than just the humdrum mundane cacophony of endless chores and the “next paycheck”… YOU are the one who will change the world.  You CAN tip the scales.  Because you SEE.  You are SOBER.  You are not so drunk with “All Is Well” that you are unable to fight in the battle when necessary. You are ready, with a positive, and realistic attitude, based in Truth.

The Truth is that there is no Empty Tomb without a crucifixion.  The truth is that there are really living breathing people, children, being persecuted and massacred.  The truth is that passionate amoral people are attempting to take over the world, and they are making unfortunate headway.

And the TRUTH, if we are awake and ready, is that the ultimate victory is God’s, and God’s alone.  THIS is true optimism, and true joy.  I just want to be in HIS army, and not the one who fiddles while the world burns down.

Love and blessings…

shalimamma

 

What Does It Mean to… Keep it Real?

imageSo, I’ve been tossing THIS mediation around for a looooooooong time… Mainly because my ‘keepin’ it real’ theory kept changing.

What’s real? Or in the words of Pontius Pilate, what is truth?

Well, naturally, I always thought that shalimamma’s outlook was the real one.  Of course, right?  My outlook and way of thinking has been the measure with which all my perceptions have been compared… Until one day, it occurred to me that the world wasn’t shalimamma-centric.  Oops.

It appears there are other people (lots of ’em), and they all have a myriad of completely different experiences, perspectives, wisdom (or lack thereof), mental challenges, personalities, temperaments…. And all of us see through our own eyes.  And what we see we believe to be true and right as far as our thinking….

Until we step outside our own brains and watch ourselves. Let me tell you, this is not easy to do (and requires that we are still sane, which sometimes I’m not even sure about THAT!)

Some time ago, I had a questionable relationship experience.  For the first time in my life, I lost some friends unexpainably.  At first I stomped and raged, and declared, ‘they MUST be wrong!’  In many ways they were, actually.  But I only realized that when I stepped outside myself and saw that in many ways I was wrong (or lacking in prudence) myself.  I literally trained myself to pretend I was floating above myself and observing my actions.  Now, I try (emphasis on TRY) to do that whenever I’m about to write something online, or share a deep opinion… How might others perceive this?  What are the motives in my heart?  Are they driven by envy or competition or depression?  Why do I ‘need’ to express what I am saying?  Why am I acting this way?

This has opened my eyes (embarrassingly, sometimes) to how I look.  As in, whoa, if I were the other person, I would think I am two years old.  Other times, when I am able to harness my brain (and mouth), I think, boy am I ever glad I rethought about my reaction… And other times, I have felt at peace with expressing something on my heart, even if it was difficult for others to hear.

In other words, I started to think in terms of ‘what’s reality… to the other person?’  How can I be compassionate, even if their way of thinking is absolutely opposite of mine?

Now, this isn’t some sort of encouragement for relativism.  (Different subject altogether).  It’s about how we react to others, which I am, of course, still working on.  ‘What I see’ is not necessarily what or how the other person sees, or even their language.  This revelation has been shocking to me at times… To realize that what I saw as ‘reality’, sometimes that everything was doom and gloom, may have only been the lenses I was seeing through, and not the lenses of others who may be on cloud nine.

Many times I have also felt, perhaps with misguided compassion, that I needed to jump into the same ditch with those that are suffering, since I am deeply empathetic.  I remember times when I was alone in my suffering, and I never want anyone else to feel that way… But largely, even among those closest to me, this hasn’t served either of us if the other party wasn’t asking for consolation from me.  In fact, I have discovered a phenomenon where some people need to keep a rainbow and unicorn view (whether it’s what they really see, or whether it’s denial) in order to cope with their life.  We all have coping mechanisms, and who am I to try to tear that down in order to prematurely show them ‘the reality’ of their situation, which is most of the time only MY perceived reality?  What if letting down their guard and seeing a figurative concentration camp in their life causes them to despair?  Who am I to shove my opinion into their gates?

What I have learned (as I overcame codependency several years ago) is to let them live in their world, even if they choose to suffer because of life choices and are not open to change or advice at this time… but to be there for them if and when they need me.  This, I believe, is charity, as opposed to believing my way of seeing things is the absolute truth.  Now, I say ‘my way of seeing things’… which leads me to a big disclaimer: This excludes absolute truths, which are not my opinion, but God’s.  It is an act of mercy to ‘instruct the ignorant’ when it comes to grave moral acts, or lifestyle choices that threaten my family or my children… With those types of grave issues, I am not compelled to remain silent or in denial because of the lenses of absolute truth.  Some people remain silent about absolutely everything, and that is their choice. But I do believe we truly are our ‘brother’s keeper’ when they are in danger, both in their physical life, and even in their spiritual well being.

Outside of grave issues, however, most of my outlook is even based on my ‘mood of the day.’  And I am starting to reach outside that natural mood when it is gloomy, and still say I’m doing well.  Even when my hubby and I are at odds, when the kids have pushed me to my limits, when finances are strained, when relationships are challenging… I AM doing well.  I CAN be joyful.  Heck, others are doing this who have much greater challenges in life than I do… So why can’t I?  Because the absolute truth is what is real.  And the absolute truth is that no matter what happens on this earth, even if we are going through a tragic time, GOD IS GOOD.  OUTSIDE of ME.  INSIDE of me.  He is All Good, and He has already been victorious, even if I’m swimming in a river of mud.

And that, my friends, is keepin’ it real.

Love,

shalimamma

Moving Right Along….

imageRaise your hand if you’ve been AWOL in the world of blogging for an awful long time…

Wait, I’m talking about me.

Something about having our ninth baby and then moving to a new country cottage, all in the space of several months… Well, it all threw me for a loop, in much the same way as moving from the city of Colorado Springs to ‘Past the BoonDocks Out East to a Ranch’ did after the Big Change or Loss For Everyone in 2008.  I couldn’t even write much beyond Facebook statuses.  It wasn’t writer’s block… It was Life Block.  As in, what-the-heck-is-going-on-here block?!?!

In 2008, we found ourselves needing to move out of the city where we had enjoyed a successful career in mortgages and real estate, out to the country to where it seemed we were ‘being called’… And we made lemonade out of lemons, let me tell ya… We started ranching, and it was amazing.  We started with a small herd of dairy goats and a couple of sheep, and we ended up with a dairy, plenty of sheep for meat and wool, many chickens, horses and later horse training and riding skills, Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dogs that we loved and bred so that we could share the wealth with other farmers and dog lovers… And then accounting training, several new graduate degrees for my husband, a dairy share program, and a thriving goat milk soap business.  Add to that, we discovered a lovely little charter school in a nearby town where we became involved leadership-wise, and a lovely parish with a community that to this day are some of the most humble and loving people….

What started out as a literal disaster of financial loss (businesses, house, savings, assets…) turned into the most amazing gain.  80 acres of opportunity, a chance to build up muscles, beyond a hobby where people have a couple of chickens or two goats… Where we learned the hard way from scratch what it was to assist the birth of puppies at two in the morning, deliver a goat kid (or two or three) who were stuck in their struggling mother, to rescue a lamb who became entangled in fence (in a blizzard, in the middle of the night, because that’s the only time sheep will ever get into trouble :))… We learned how to ‘process’ (meaning butcher) animals on our ranch… Which was heartbreaking and new for me at first, a typical American who didn’t realize the price of that cellophaned item we so conveniently buy at the grocery store, or what is actually in the pasteurized milk jug…  We learned of the sacrifice of ranchers when we’re in a drought, and what hay costs, and that most ranchers and farmers are not subsidized by the government, meaning we live on a shoestring budget so that our animals can be healthy and happy… We saw lots of new life… and… lots of death.  Our children learned important lessons that can’t be taught in textbooks.  Not just the lost of a beloved pampered pet (as many people experience)… But the loss of baby animals who didn’t make it through the birth process, the loss of milk when a mother dried up because she miscarried, the loss of meat when a lamb died unexpectedly by a predator (before we had livestock guardian dogs)… We experienced things that are etched into my mind, to almost the same extent as a natural childbirth is etched into a mother’s (and father’s) mind… things that can’t really be explained unless you have experienced them, too.   Things that almost make me feel ‘grandmotherly’ when a fresh young couple say ‘We’re going to get two goats and start a farm!  Yeehaw!’  I can feel some sort of knowing wisdom behind my eyes that prompts me with ‘do I tell them?  Or let them experience this beginning on their own?’  I am mostly silent.  The same way we mothers of many are when a mother becomes pregnant with her first.  But inside, we are bursting with advice and the urge to share and relate…

But then, after all this experience over 6 years, we came to a fork in the road.  We needed to make a decision… And the decision needed to be compatible with my husband’s work over an hour away, and I longed to share my life with people.  Many ranchers way out east prefer the animals for their company.  I get that.  People can be weird and tough at times.  Goodness knows we’ve had our experiences with weirdness and the loss of friends for no good reason.  Many times, our dogs or goats seemed more reasonable.  But God didn’t say ‘love thy dog as thyself.’  There’s that whole ‘neighbor’ thing… And to be honest, while we have had our share of disillusionments with people, they are so few compared to the amazing people in our lives.  Literally, we are blessed abundantly with beautiful friends to such an extent, that I wish I had more time to spend with them!

So a decision had to be made… For our marriage, which was strained because of the constant distance from each other (we are the type that really do enjoy being with each other as much as possible, and he was so far away for so many years with work and education….), and for our involvement in community (even though we have dear friends from the Calhan community), we needed to choose.  We chose relationships over land and off-grid wealth and potential… That’s not to say we couldn’t still go that route, but we know the price.  Seriously, when I hear starry-eyed people say ‘we’re gunna live off-grid and raise livestock’, I have to restrain myself from saying ‘you have no idea the price of that…’  And yet, it’s a noble cause, and I encourage anyone called in that direction to take the leap, so long as their marriage is strong, and they are both in it together full-time.  Then maybe you can pull it off….

And so that leads us to now…. We came to love the freedom of having animals, however many we want or could support, without some agency saying “you can only have 5.2 chickens”… We got used to not having neighbors breathing down our necks … We got used to, and came to love, more freedom on land we own… And so here we are, in our new digs, still east of Colorado Springs, but not so far out that our main conversations are with horses or cattle.  We can still see the gorgeous starry night, untainted by city lights or the city glow, and at the same time, we are close to my husband’s work, which brought our family back together instantly.  We are still making goat milk soap and other products… We are still running Victory Ranch.

But a page has turned.

Yes, it was a tough page that turned, because I think it’s human nature to want to cling to something good, even if something better is up next.  It is tough to move away from friends who became like family, and from the simplicity of small-town people.  It was tough to move away from what became familiar even if it was tough.  But the page turned, and we are in a new era, even though we have forged some life-long beautiful relationships while we lived further out east.

The page turned, and before us is a fresh new page, that contains all of our history and experiences, and points to newness, excitement, and the continuing fulfillment of our family’s mission.   And what is our family’s mission?  Well, it contains quite a lot… But the short version is that we are called as a family to glorify God by serving the cause of life as well as living out Goodness, Beauty, and Truth… Together.

With that, LifeVictorious is still about being real, authentic, and celebrating victory through challenge, but the flavor here is also evolving, like our lives are.  As we move more into our family mission, we will be sharing with you our family businesses, and encouraging you to do the same in your families or individual lives… We will all be working to encourage each of our gifts as a family, and we will be spreading that mission to more than just us.  You can do it, too…. You can be victorious, especially in these tumultuous times we live within…

With love, and wishing you a Life Victorious,

shalimamma :)

Here are some new pictures from the new a Victory Ranch!  Enjoy!

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Sure as Hell?….

I ran across the phrase again today, I have uttered it so many times too, “Sure as Hell…” It struck me seeing the words in print…. why are we “Sure as Hell,” but not “sure as Heaven?” Are we so lost as a people, all we can be certain of is eternal separation from God, eternal loneliness, heart-break and a sense of loss? Are we so caught up in the negativity of the world around us that we can not see that there is more? I ask this because I am guilty too….

Too often I have given into anger and spoken rashly, harshly, when I should have been silent. Too many times I have not been able to enjoy the simple beauty around me, I can only see the war, the starvation and the grotesqueness around me mostly from my computer or TV screen. Seeing that phrase in a meme posted by a friend on Face Book… it caused me to pause… and struck me dumb.

What if instead we changed the phrase… What if instead of cursing we said, “Well, Sure as Heaven, the sun’s gonna come out tomorrow..” or “Sure as Heaven, I’m alive and breathing today…” It sounds so funny and strange to mouth those words.. but in the end, isn’t Heaven where we all want to end up anyway?

This Lenten season, I decided to forgo my usual sacrifices. Chocolate is too easy to give up because I know that after Easter, I can go back to what I did before… this year instead of the “I won’t…” I am trying to replace a bad habit with an “I will…” My worst habit is the tendency to focus on the negative.. I invite negativity into my life almost as naturally as breathing…I’m not talking about the “think positive” mumbo jumbo or the rose-colored glasses way of being positive, but more, of trusting God to manage the world, and only trying to carry my own cross. (shouldn’t that be enough, really?). Jesus didn’t say, “Take up your cross, and your sister’s cross, and the one of your President….” He just said, “Take up your cross and follow me.” I have to do my part, bear up under the challenges I am given and give the rest over to God… it’s hard for a control freak like me…but..”Sure as Heaven, I’ll get there one day!”

Have a Blessed Lent!

From my Heart to Yours,
The Hiland Rose