Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lent: The Process of Discipline

I actually had something totally different planned for this week's Lent post but my Lenten discipline has been a challenge these past weeks, so I thought we would focus on that instead.

So what did I give up for Lent?  I tossed around several up coffee (I drink too much), a commitment to daily exercise (I don't), giving up desserts (I have no self-control), giving up TV or the Internet (both can be huge time wasters for me)...and the list goes on.  Since many of these options related to my lack of self-care, I decided on something I thought would trickle down into most of these areas:  I committed to go to bed early.

I think every mom can relate to coveting those precious few hours in the evening when the kids are sleeping. The house is finally quiet (perhaps a disaster, but at least quiet), and you at last have time to yourself...and to talk with your husband like two adults without having to stop every two seconds to break up an argument, answer a question, or address the foul smell coming from the one-year old. 

But sometimes we can cling a little too tightly to this time. At least I can.  In fact, before Lent, I clung so tightly that I didn't want that time to end.  I found myself staying up later and later until my average bedtime hit around midnight or later.  I have early risers, so the boys calling for "Mama" at 6am was not the sweet wake-up call it should be. 

Most parents describe these hours as the time they can finally "get stuff done"....quickly respond to emails with a clear mind, clean up from the day without another mess beginning in the next room, tackle those projects that aren't so kid-friendly, or simply relax. 

I know that I was not accomplishing any of those things by staying up so late.  I was so fatigued that I couldn't focus my thoughts or muster the energy for those tasks....but I stayed up later and later hoping that somehow I would.  I certainly wasn't waking up the next morning happy that I had stayed up so late as I savored the satisfaction of such a productive evening.  Nope.  I was reaching for that first cup of coffee to help jar me out of my sleep deprived stupor.

Eventually the extra coffee wasn't cutting it and all the extra caffeine was making matters worse - I was so tired, I would need coffee in the evening (especially to make through my evening commitments outside the house), and would be wired until the wee hours.  A vicious cycle. 

And as you can imagine I wasn't the only one suffering.  I had zero energy to give my children and or our home during the day as they deserved.  I was in an ugly survival mode.

So, after some prayer and conviction, my Lenten sacrifice was to take better care of myself.  That began with going to bed at a decent hour, for me no later than 10pm and preferably around 9:30pm.  I had to enlist the help of my husband here, because as we all know, new habits can be hard to establish.  I was grateful for the gentle (ok, stern) kick in the pants, to stop whatever I was doing and head to bed. 

I felt a difference almost right away.  The extra sleep left me feeling better rested in the morning, I could drink my coffee because I enjoyed it not because I NEEDED it (I'm down to a hot cup in the morning and an iced coffee in the afternoon), and I am able to be more focused on my tasks because I have more rest.  James and I also go to bed at the same time now on most nights.

The challenge that came along with this was a need to structure my time better.  Since I cut out 2-3 hours of my day by going to bed early, I needed to make better use of the time available in my new day.  The other part of my Lenten commitment was to pray a daily Rosary for a specific intention that had long been on my heart.  Instead of fitting this in where I could, it deserved a set time free of distractions.

Being the ultimate list maker and a detail-freak, I broke down our day and scheduled specific time for getting ready, meals, dinner prep, prayer, personal computer time, and purposeful time with the kids.  Now I will be honest, we do not follow this to the letter and some days it goes out the window completely, but it's a good guideline to help me get back on track when the wrong things creep their way up the priority list.

I also needed to accept a dose of reality that not everything will get done.  I've heard this so many times but where I failed to apply this wisdom, was in not choosing the things I would forgo in a given day in advance.  I would still try to do it all and whatever was left undone, went to the next day's list of to-do's.  I find I operate better and have more satisfaction and peace about my day, if I am realistic about what I can accomplish and make a to-do list for each day that I know I can execute in its entirety...or mostly anyway.

Lenten disciplines can take you through a process of learning.  As I put my simple commitment of going to bed early and praying for a specific intention into practice, I realized how many other areas of my life were out of proper order. 

I had let other things take the place of spending quality time with my children.  Sure, I was meeting their needs and even doing some good things with them, but I was not intentional about our time together. I was too busy trying to squeeze in all the things I wanted to do...and I would become frustrated and even resentful when my children required me to stop what I was doing and a parent!   I was simply responding to needs or crisis that would arise, instead of thoughtfully planning our time together and carving out time for myself (so that I would not be tempted to steal it from more important moments throughout the day).

This is just one of the areas that God has opened my eyes to through this Lenten commitment.  There are many others.  My problem of neglecting to care for myself, trickled into my relationship with my children, my husband, my friends and with God. 

Now, the answer is not to hurry up, fix it all and get everything perfectly in line by Easter!  Our Lenten disciplines are not just for 40 days and then totally discarded.  If the Holy Spirit has lead us to give something up or take something on for Lent, then that discipline has significance for our soul.  Lent is the time for self-reflection but also for reflection on Christ.  We look at our lives and seek to throw off those habits and the sin that has kept us from walking with Him and living in Him. 

So, if we gave up TV for Lent, we don't need to give it up for the rest of our lives.  But we should take care not to let the lessons of our Lenten journey slip away at the end of this season.  Easter is celebration of new life in Christ, and if we are to walk in that life, we take what we have learned throughout Lent and the grace we received through forgiveness, to do just that. 

My Lent has not been perfect.  I have not always kept my commitment.  Our family was sick off and on for a month and that meant late nights up with kids and not always keeping my 10pm appointment with my bed or my afternoon appointment for prayer.  There are nights I don't get home until 10pm because of other commitments.  However, Lent is not about beating ourselves up when we miss the mark either, whatever the reason! 

For me, this season has been about a continued effort to take better care of my body, of this temple, that God has given me.  I want it to be a place where the Holy Spirit wants to dwell, and a body with hands, feet, a heart and a mind that is working with Him in every situation and relationship in which I live.  This is especially important when I hit a set back or when bad habits sneak back in.  The whole thing isn't a wash just because I slipped up! 

Lenten discipline requires just that, self-discipline...both to keep the commitment and to get back on track when we fall off course. It's what we need for the whole journey. And it's something that doesn't happen without grace.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

We're Back!

Geesh - that was a doozey!  It seems for the last month we have been passing around one illness after another to each other.  I can only remember a couple of days where everyone in our family was well. 

Just as I thought we were turning the corner, spring arrived and brought along with it a heinous allergy season.  One day of working in the yard sent us into a new round of allergy attacks.  With a lingering cold hanging on for the ride, we spent a gorgeous 70 degree spring break week....inside.  Boo.

Thanks to allergy medicine (which all the kids and I have to take daily through Memorial Day), we are finally back among the land of the living!  I tell ya, fresh air works wonders for the soul after being cooped up inside for weeks on end.  We are enjoying dinners on the patio, getting the yard ready for spring, and having lots of outdoor playtime!

Look out Ladies..

And when did this one turn into a teenager??

Nah...still my little buddy :)

We also celebrated James' 33rd birthday!  Cake on the patio was a special treat for everyone.

Happy Birthday Babe!  You are an amazing husband and father and we love you so much!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Down for the count

This has been a rough winter for the Crinion Clan....were on yet another round of cold/virus going through our house.  Boys are coughing and running low fevers and Mia is battling allergies. 

On top of that we are having trouble with both of our computers, so I'm sneaking in a quick post before this computer shuts down again. 

We'll be working to get our family well this week but I have lots to share once our computers are back up and nurse mom isn't in such high demand!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Life, Loss, & Lilies: Our Experience with Vanishing Twin Syndrome

Now that some time has passed, I wanted to share our story (which many of you know) about our most recent pregnancy. It truly changed the way I view life, when it begins, and how we face the reality of life lost before it ever has a chance to begin.

Back in March of 2010, Sully was just 6 months old and I urinated on a stick that told me he would be a big brother. I expected fear and terror to bubble up (or to violently spew up) at the thought of having 3 children under 3 years old. Yet oddly, I felt excited and couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the news. 
I had ovulated twice that month and since our babies tend to be big and late, my OB ordered an early ultrasound to pinpoint the due date. What happened next really should have rocked my comfortable little world....after looking at the screen for awhile, the ultrasound tech clicked on the pull down tab labeled “# of fetus”. She then entered a 2. 
James and I looked at each other in disbelief. “Two?! Are you sure?” I asked. “Yup” she replied. And my heart just soared. I can’t explain why (given that I would now be having 4 children under 3 years old) but there was just something so exciting, and even comforting, about all this happening outside of our control. We were experiencing one of God’s most amazing miracles and a plan we could not have envisioned for ourselves. 
The tech took several more minutes looking at various angles, but she was having trouble finding the second baby’s heartbeat. One baby was on top of the other, so the equipment was only picking up one heartbeat. She eventually called for another tech and worry set in. We had gone from shocked, to overjoyed, to terrified in a matter of minutes. 
I didn’t know this at the time but James had begun praying as soon as they called for the second tech. On his last word of the Hail Mary, that second heartbeat flashed on the screen. We all saw it and all gasped together in hope and relief. We were able to see it for just a couple seconds before it slipped out of range again. 
As a catholic convert, I have struggled to understand what our relationship with Mary is meant to be. It has not been difficult to accept Marian doctrine as much as it’s been challenging to open my heart to her in response. In this moment, we felt the Mother of God had given us a sign that both of these precious babies were going to be ok. In my heart, I felt her reaching out to me through this sign of hope.
Since one of the babies was slightly smaller than the other and because of difficulty in finding that second heartbeat, we were scheduled for another ultrasound a week later.
As we were leaving, the tech was notably nervous. She briefly mentioned the possibility of Vanishing Twin Syndrome, a situation where one of the babies is not thriving or has a problem, and instead of ‘normally’ miscarrying as a woman would with a single pregnancy, the baby is slowly absorbed into the mother’s body, placenta and/or other baby until it disappears…or “vanishes”. 
She noted how common it was and explained that many women aren’t ever aware they were pregnant with twins because the baby that isn’t thriving can die and vanish before the first OB appointment or ultrasound.
“Just don’t be surprised”, she said as we left. Thanks a bunch.
We arrived at the next ultrasound excited and hopeful, but still nervous. We had received such unbelievable support and encouragement from our family and friends. We knew these babies were covered by a sea of prayers and we all felt peace that both babies were going to be fine. 
As soon as that screen came up, I immediately saw that Baby A was noticeably larger than Baby B. A few more minutes of observation made clear that Baby B no longer had a heartbeat. The compassionate nurse laid a gentle hand on my leg as I listened, desperately trying to keep it together, to the matter-of-fact doctor explain what I already knew. 
The good news was that Baby A looked healthy and perfect. We were scheduled for another ultrasound in one month to see how things developed. Those were the longest 4 weeks of my life. As much as I was grateful that the other baby was thriving, I was completely devastated at our loss. 
I'm fortunate that I have never had a miscarriage prior to this, so I can’t really compare the two. I won’t say that one is more difficult to endure than the other, they are simply different. With a miscarriage, the mother’s body traumatically expels the baby from the womb. I can’t imagine the sense of loss, of being “ripped apart from one another”, and the heartache of an empty womb in that situation. 
With Vanishing Twin Syndrome, I experienced an extreme clash of emotions. I had life and death inside of me at the same time. Any moment of gratitude and joy over our healthy baby, was followed by guilt over not mourning our loss. Likewise, the times I was struck down with sorrow over our lost baby, were met with guilt from not rejoicing over the life we still had. 
And then there was the wait. I hated that I had to just wait for my lifeless baby to ‘disappear’ and not know whether or not it had happened yet. 
Beyond my grief was anger and confusion. Toward Mary and toward God. I wasn’t mad that this life was taken but at what we had perceived to be the signs of affirmation and peace that both babies would survive. Why would Mary have allowed us to see that heartbeat? It felt like false hope.
This of course was my human reaction to something I couldn't understand and to someone who I really didn’t know yet. I just couldn’t understand why Mary would have reached out in that way if our baby was not going to make it...especially given my struggle to embrace her and let her embrace me.
Days later, in a moment of prayer, I understood. That heartbeat was a sign of life. We did not just have a fetus or some glob of cells that disappeared. We had been blessed with life, two lives. That was my baby and no one can justify the pain of losing her away by calling her something else. Our Blessed Mother had given us a recognition and appreciation for life in its most vulnerable state. 
Sure it may have been easier not to have experienced that first ultrasound and to have gone through my pregnancy never knowing we had lost a child (as many women do). But I would never exchange the pain of losing her for never knowing she existed.
As we shared our loss with close friends, many people suggested we name the baby we lost. I was on the fence about this but after going to confession about some of my attitudes toward the situation, my penance was none other name the baby. So I wasn’t getting out of it!  
It truly doesn’t matter the sex but we had a feeling that our baby was a girl. Ever since I was young, I have always loved the name Lily and since we did not use it for our first daughter’s name, it seemed meant for this child. Lilies are a symbol of purity and she is our pure soul waiting for us in heaven.
Without the hope of heaven and a loving heavenly Father, innocent life lost to miscarriage or a little understood syndrome (or anything for that matter) is a wound to a parent’s heart that does not heal.
I can’t wait to see her, to know her, to be with her.
In a way I am grateful that she will never feel the pain of this world….but in the same breath, my heart aches for her. 
And what of my Jack, our survivor? How will he feel when he is old enough to understand that he is a twin but his other half did not survive? Will he feel guilt for surviving? Will he have any of those feelings that twins share (like part of them is missing when they are not with their twin)? Will he feel bad for not having any of those feelings at all? 
James and I are largely responsible for how Jack and our other children view this life. Lily is part of our family. My oldest daughter Mia (4 ½ years old) will tell you that we are not really a family of 5 but a family of 6. She knows that Jack and Lily were in my tummy at the same time but that Lily went straight to heaven because she was sick. But she also knows that Lily is now healed and whole and that one day we’ll all be together again, never to be separated. 
I called the office where we had our first ultrasound and asked if they still had the pictures showing both babies (I did not get any that day). They did and we received them in the mail a few days later. It’s a beautiful reminder of our Lily and something we can share with Jack as he gets older.
Both Jack and Lily had a heartbeat at 7 weeks. By 8 weeks Lily did not have a heartbeat and had stopped growing. She was about the same size as she was at the 7 week ultrasound, and by 12 weeks all we could see of her was just a sliver on the ultrasound screen. 
Sometimes it might seem better if we could just escape the pain of our loss, of our suffering and of our disappointment. But we can't run from that is the reality of the broken world in which we live. However, God sent His Son to redeem this world and he promises to use all things for good for those who trust Him. This includes our pain. If we can give that pain to Him, he will be faithful to make something incredibly beautiful from it. He is after all, the God who makes beauty from ashes and all things new.
I am so grateful to have been given the amazing gift of twins, however briefly.  I'm thankful for my Jack, born the day after Christmas, who is perfectly healthy, perfectly ornery, and also perfectly sweet.  He (along with my other children) is a daily reminder of the gift of life.   

The day he was born, every milestone he meets, every day of his life that we celebrate, my mind also goes to Lily and I wonder what she would have been like at that point in her life.  It is often bitter-sweet, but Jack has truly been healing to me in many ways.  He has brought such joy to our family in his larger-than-life way and he has expanded our hearts to love in ways we didn't know we could. 

I am also grateful that God used this experience to set heaven more deeply in my heart and to bridge the divide between heaven and earth just a little more.  And I am forever grateful that He used this to introduce me more intimately to the Mother of God. 
Thank you, Blessed Mary, for showing me my Lily that day.  I trust that you are loving her as only a mother can until the day I can wrap her up in my arms myself. 

Linking to:

Monday, March 12, 2012

Big Bed for a Big Boy

We made the switch this weekend!  Sully is now in a big boy bed!!

He was thrilled to help his Daddy take apart the crib:

And he did a great job of collecting all the parts in his bag:

He had a great night and even stayed in his bed until I got him this morning.  You can see all the details and the new bed over at our House blog!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Joy of a Fort

It had been quite awhile since we last built a fort.  Long enough for Jack not to remember the excitement and wonder that a fort brings.

 Yup, this fort thing is pretty awesome

Sully thought so too...

Until this one decided it would be more fun to stand on TOP of the fort.  He is the picture of innocence..

Sully made a valiant attempt at teaching him proper fort etiquette

But someone got his feelings hurt

There was an attempt at reconciliation...

..that eventually went sour.

My blue-eyed girl was just trying to help everyone get along

 Despite the drama, it was a great way to spend a cold, dreary morning inside. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Lent: 40 days of sacrifice or suffering?

I probably should have written about Lenten disciplines at the beginning of Lent when we were still trying to figure what to give up or take on for 40 days.  Since I'm more than a day late and a dollar short, let's get a status check instead. 

How are you doing with your Lenten sacrifice? 

A recent conversation with a friend made me think about the purpose of our Lenten sacrifice and how we chose it.  She had given up a drink that she loved and consumed often.  She was a week into Lent....and barely hanging on! 

So we talked about why she had chosen this particular sacrifice for Lent.  The simple answer was that she just knew it would be hard. 

The next question was an important key - how was this sacrifice drawing her closer to Christ?  It wasn't. So where do we go if we find ourselves in this place?

Let's start by building our understanding of Lenten sacrifices/disciplines.

The 40 days of Lent begin with Ash Wednesday.  Technically, it's 47 days from Ash Wed to Easter Sunday but Sunday's during lent are not "counted" as days of fasting/abstinence.  So Lent is 40 days, not including Sundays. 

The season comprises 40 days to mimic the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting, praying and being tempted by Satan in the desert (immediately after he was baptized by John in the Jordan). 

In Luke we read that Jesus was lead by the Holy Spirit to the desert (Luke 4:1).  It was God that lead him to the barrenness for a period of fasting, praying and eventually temptation. 

So, as we enter this Lenten period of fasting and praying we also should look to the Holy Spirit to lead us to those things we need to "fast" from and to help us choose our Lenten discipline. 

In the past, self-imposed disciplines during Lent almost always involved giving something up in a spirit of penance (in addition to days of abstinence on Fridays and days of fasting/abstinence on Ash Wed and Good Friday). 

But in recent years, more specifically after the second Vatican Council, the faithful have been encouraged to consider taking on something for 40 days as a form of Lenten sacrifice....commitments to prayer, reading, serving the poor or the community, or simply spending more time with Jesus.  Although they are things we "take on", each of those things still requires a sacrifice - the sacrifice of our time. 

If we are adding something into our day, then something usually has to go to make room it.  If we are getting up early to spend time on our knees, we sacrifice a little extra sleep or the luxury of taking our time waking up...if we are committing to spending more time reading the Word of God or Church documents, we may sacrifice one of our guilty pleasure shows on TV for silence...and if we take on a Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament, we may sacrifice time for ourselves in the evening.

Whether giving something up as a sacrifice or making a commitment to something new, both require discipline. 

When we choose our personal Lenten discipline, we need to think and pray about what will truly help us enter into the spirit of the Lenten season:  prayer/fasting/repentance/ order to grow closer to Christ.  

Some people knock those who give up soda or chocolate for Lent, but if we have lost self-control in regards to certain food or drink (or all food and drink!), then this would be an appropriate sacrifice.  If we have let the busyness of life replace our time with God, then carving out a specific time for prayer or reading to help us grow in faith may be the right discipline. If social media/TV/etc have become a big time waster for us, then perhaps limiting our time with our gadgets is the right discipline.  If we have lost control over our personal spending, then maybe a 40 day spending freeze is in order (some might consider giving the money they would have spent to another worthy cause). 

The answer to the following questions is where we should focus our Lenten discipline:  What 'gods' have we allowed to take the priority over God in our lives?  What would we rather do than spend time with/for God?

Going back to my friend's example...she chose to give up a drink she really likes knowing that it would be hard to say no to it...but she was not growing in her relationship with Christ.  Since this was towards the beginning of Lent, she decided to change her Lenten commitment - instead of completely cutting out her favorite drink, she decided to limit her intake but she also committed to spend the time on her morning drive to work in prayer, instead of listening to her favorite daily morning show on the radio. 

Now, whatever we choose to do for Lent may indeed be hard.  And difficulty in keeping our commitment to a Lenten promise is not a reason to choose something else.  In fact, whenever we do feel the pain, the hunger,and the sting of our sacrifice, we should use that moment to move our hearts to prayer, surrender and remembrance of Christ's own suffering out of love on our behalf.  However, suffering (though potentially a by-product of our Lenten commitment) should not be its purpose.  Growth in grace, holiness, and Christ should be our goal. 

Christ was baptized by John, immediately led to desert, and after those 40 days, he "returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit" (Luke 4:14) and began his ministry on earth.  

If we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us through the desert of Lent, then we'll be ready to go forward, renewed by the same Spirit, so that we can bring Christ's love to the world.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Ready, Set, Go!!

We officially have a walker!  Our big boy is now walking more than he's crawling...but only if he really wants something.  Here, I've lured him over with a chunk of oatmeal cookie.

I'm not above bribery if it will convince this sweet little face to toddle my way.

In less happy news....another cold is going around our house :(

PJ's and our favorite show helped a bit, but it will be an early night for the Crinion Clan!

Friday, March 2, 2012

House update

Here's a bit of a "Where's Waldo?" for you....there is actually a child in this picture. 

The madness here is a gargantuan pile of the boys clothes we have been sorting through....fits, too small, and too's all part of the boys' dresser/closet redo! 

You can check out the progress at our house blog:
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