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Advent Nicole

Mary, did you know?

There is a song I hear around this time of year that gives a different perspective of Christmas to those who hear it. Mary, Did You Know? was originally recorded and performed by Michael English, and has been popularized by other artists such as Wynona Judd and Kenny Rogers as a duet and Clay Aiken.

The song speaks to Mary, the Mother of God, asking her if, when she held her baby in her arms, she knew who He really was.

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would one day walk on water?

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would save our sons and daughters?

The more I hear this song, the more it makes me think about the role of Mary during Advent, and perhaps moreso now that I am a mother myself.

Many mothers say that if they knew all the challenges and heartache that comes with motherhood, they would still do it because the love and joy you feel outweighs all that. When you have a child, you give your whole heart to that child, whether the child is your first, second, fifth, or twelfth (or even twentieth!). Your heart grows larger with each child, and there is an incredible connection between mother and child that can only be fully understood by a mother. There is something about motherhood that transcends all other experiences on this earth. And Mary felt that about the Christ Child just as I do for my precious Wyatt and Lilly.

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will give sight to a blind man?

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will calm the storm with His hand?

Did you know that your Baby Boy has walked where angels trod?

When you kiss your little Baby you kissed the face of God.

Mary knew her pregnancy was different. Gabriel told her, “’And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High […] the holy Child shall be called the Son of God’” (Luke 1:31-32, 35 NASB)

While Gabriel explained to this young woman (well, likely a girl by today’s standards) that her Baby would be the Messiah, I can’t help but think she probably didn’t fully understand. Because, if I’m being honest, even I didn’t understand a lot of what my doctor told me at my prenatal appointments. (Maybe I shouldn’t have admitted that….)

During Advent, Mary was reaching the end of her pregnancy. She was uncomfortable, probably in pain, and going on a long journey with her new husband. She probably knew her Baby would be born while she was away from home, away from the women in her family who would have helped with the delivery, and it was probably scary for her. And I can imagine it was her faith and trust in God that kept her going day after day.

And Mary said, “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38a ASV)

Mary loved God, and was willing immediately to serve Him in any way He asked. So when Gabriel told her she was pregnant and was carrying Christ, she didn’t hesitate when she accepted the honor and responsibility that came with it. She may not have known what was in store for her, but she knew she was doing it for God, and that was enough.

Though pregnancy helps prepare a woman (physically and mentally) for motherhood, everything still changes when you see your baby for the first time. A new baby’s perfect face and tiny body is unlike anything else. The bond between mother and child that begins to form at that moment is for a lifetime, regardless of what happens in either of their lives. Mothers know their children better than anyone except the Lord.

So it could be that when Mary held her Baby for the first time, held Jesus in her arms and kissed His face, she knew. It could be that when she saw the face of God for herself, manifested in the perfect innocence of a newborn baby, she knew.

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy is Lord of all creation?

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would one day rule the nations?

Did you know that your Baby Boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?

The sleeping Child you’re holding is the Great I Am.

It is, in part, because of Mary that I love Christmas as much as I do. Even before I came into full communion with the Church I was drawn to the Blessed Mother. I knew I wanted to be a wife and mother for a long time before it happened, and Mary was an example of Christian motherhood and wifehood that moved me to grow in my faith every day.

As we celebrate Advent in anticipation of Christmas and the celebration of the birth of our Lord, I will spend more time talking to the Blessed Mother, learning more about her. And as I meditate on what she endured during her pregnancy, delivery, and motherhood, I will be strengthened in my own journey as a mother. As I think about the first time she held her Baby, our Lord, I will catch my own son in a hug before he can squirm away and kiss my daughter to make her smile. Because, just as Mary accepted her calling from God as the Mother of God, I welcome my calling as a Catholic wife and mother. And during this Advent and Christmas, especially, I will pray to God and say, Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.

[POSTSCRIPT] It was brought to my attention in a comment on this post that the song “Mary, Did You Know?” denies the Immaculate Conception in the line that says, “Did you know that your Baby Boy has come to make you new? / This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.” It is not my intention to deny the Immaculate Conception at all. I would like to note that the song used in this post is to speak to Mary’s mindset as a new mother, and as the mother of Christ. It is not a Catholic song, so it does not strictly adhere to Catholic teachings. I apologize for any offense that may have come from this, and those lines have been deleted from the post. Thank you, and God bless.

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Nicole

Offer it up

While I know I have been very blessed in my life, there have also been times I have struggled or faced trials. And in those times, it was recommended to me that I “offer it up” to the Lord.

Anyone who does this knows what it means, but for those new to the faith or who aren’t familiar with the lingo, “offering it up” may be a confusing concept.

It has been my experience that there are two ways something can be offered up to God. The first, which is much more prevalent in Protestant circles, is to offer something up in prayer. In other words, when you have a trial or challenge ahead of you, or a decision to make, you pray about it. Give that problem or dilemma to God. You offer it up to the Lord.

The other way of offering something up is to offer up pain, frustration, or challenges in unity with Christ.

Christians know that Christ suffered at Calvary. The physical pain and death (and time in Hell) experienced by Christ was in atonement for the sins of all people. Christ suffered fiercely so that we don’t have to. But by recognizing that suffering, we as Christians can have a deeper appreciation for the gift offered to us by Christ, which can strengthen our faith and devotion.

Offering up your own suffering is one way to do that. Let me give you an example.

My pregnancies were somewhat difficult. They weren’t nearly as difficult as some women I know, but they weren’t a breeze, either. On particularly challenging days, I made a conscious effort to offer up my pains and fears and challenges in unity with Christ’s suffering on the cross. What I went through was a miniscule amount of pain in comparison to Christ’s suffering. Realizing that gave me a better understanding of how big of a deal it is that our Lord died the way He did.

Offering up your own suffering can also give you strength you didn’t know you had. Turning back to the pregnancy example, remembering that what I suffered was a fraction of a percent of what Christ suffered gave me strength to keep on keeping on. After all, if Christ could endure what he did, then a little heartburn wasn’t going to stop me!

Everyone faces challenges. People endure suffering. But it’s how you handle it that can make the difference between making you hard-hearted and bitter or faithful and full of grace. By offering up your suffering to Christ, in unity with His suffering, for strength in your daily walk, you will find yourself going through more than you thought you could handle.

And since we know that, with God, we can do anything, offering up your challenges in combination with trusting the Lord’s plan for your life (and leaning on God to get through) can make you unstoppable. Don’t be afraid of your challenges or suffering. Instead, use them to strengthen you and strengthen your faith.

After all, you will stand tallest on your knees.

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Nicole

Let go and let God

I have been blessed in my life. I had a happy childhood, I have a wonderful husband and two amazing children. I have a faith that has carried me through the few trials I’ve experienced, and I’ve grown as a wife and mother every day.

However, the past couple of months have been particularly difficult for my family. I won’t go into details in order to protect privacy, but it has probably been the most I’ve struggled since I’ve been married. I said many times during September and October that I felt the Lord was testing my mettle, and I believe it.

My husband and I decided it was in the best interest of our family to move from our home in central Florida to central Illinois. My mother and siblings live in central Illinois (and my father and much of my extended family in northern Illinois), and we decided we could care for the family better in Illinois right now.

When the decision was made, I knew in my heart it was God’s will for our family. So I trusted that if I trusted the Lord in this decision, things would fall into place for the move. I was right in ways I never expected!

The first challenge was the actual move. We needed to get down to Florida, pack the house in a rental truck, and drive it back up to Illinois. We didn’t want to take the kids with us since we had to be out by the end of the month, so it was decided that Hubby would stay with the kids in Illinois, and I would go down to pack the house. And I’d need help.

Both my parents spoke with their bosses to see about rearranging their work schedules to go with me. My dad had the better schedule for it, so he said he’d go to Florida with me. In retrospect, if Mom had gone instead, we wouldn’t have been able to lift a lot of the heavier furniture on our own. With Dad there to help, we were able to take everything I wanted to take.

At 5:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning, Dad and I got in my car and drove to central Florida. We swapped drivers so we didn’t have to stop overnight. We arrived at the apartment around two in the morning and went to sleep.

While we were on the road to Florida, a financial obstacle was moved for us. I had looked at a moving truck from a particular company, and while I wasn’t ecstatic about how much it was going to cost, it was fine. I’d figured it would be that much. Well, my uncle suggested another company, and I’d found a truck that would work for about $200 less, so I was happy about that. When I called my husband for him to reserve the truck, he looked at a third company that was even less, so we’d end up saving about $400 on the truck! I’d been concerned about the financial aspect of moving, from the truck rental to gas to food for the trip, but with what we saved on the moving truck, everything worked out fine!

On Thursday morning, we picked up the truck and started loading it. The more we put in the truck, the more I was thankful we’d gotten the one we did. The other two I considered were smaller, and our household goods would not have fit. The truck we got fit everything I wanted to bring with us just perfectly.

There were other, smaller things that happened that showed me that God’s hand was in this move. For example, my dad decided we needed a two-wheeled hand cart and some tie-down straps. The hand cart he found at Lowe’s was out of his price range, so we decided to go to Big Lots to look. On the way there, he asked about a store called Harbor Freight. I’d never heard of it, so I told him I didn’t think there was one around. We pulled into the Big Lots parking lot to find a Harbor Freight two doors down. (Yep. I’ll never live that one down!) Not only did we get the hand cart and tie down straps, but both were on sale (the hand cart was almost half off)!

On the way back up, my dad and I talked about all the things that fell into place for the move to go so smoothly. There were other people who wanted to go with and help us pack the apartment, but if they had, I would have had to drive my car back separately rather than use a car dolly because the truck only had two seats. (The car dolly saved us in gas on the return trip!) Originally, Dad and I were going to leave very early on Thursday morning, and I had to be out by 6:00 on Saturday. If we’d left on Thursday, we wouldn’t have gotten done in time.

Even as we were leaving, things fell into place. I was told by the woman at the leasing office that I had to turn the keys in by 6:00 p.m. on Saturday. When I went to the leasing office to turn in the keys a little before 6:00, the sign in the front said it had closed at 5:00 p.m. However, someone just so happened to be there late speaking with a potential resident, and I was able to drop off the keys.

Needless to say, my dad and I did a lot of praying during that trip, thanking God for all the blessings we had every step of the way.

I enjoyed living in Florida. I really did. But it seemed that, most of the time, living in Florida was one challenge after another. Conversely, the move to Illinois was so smooth that I can’t help but believe that this is where God wants us to be. Under normal circumstances, there’s no way we’d have been able to afford to move to Illinois. But everything fell together. This big, scary adventure of a move was easy.

That’s how it works, isn’t it? God has a plan for us. And the plan isn’t arbitrary. Our Lord only has our best interests in mind. And when we try to do things our own way, we get nothing but challenges. Things don’t work out, plans fall through, and every step is a battle. But if we remember to trust God and the plan for our lives and families, and get ourselves out of the way to let God do things the way they should be done, everything just falls into place.

It’s not always easy to let go and let God. It’s something I’ve struggled with in my own faith journey. But let me tell you, as someone who has seen God’s miraculous work first-hand in the past couple of weeks, that if you trust God to handle the hard parts, then there will be far fewer hard parts to handle.

Let go, let God, and you can see miracles happen every day.

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Nicole

Ponder in your heart

It’s well known that it’s easier to see problems in others than yourself. After all, we can justify anything to ourselves, but simply can’t understand how others can do the same thing, right?

Part of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is self-examination. The first step in seeking God’s forgiveness is to recognize the sins in our own lives and have the desire and intent not to commit them again.

There are pages and pages written about self-examination in seeking God’s grace. Christians are encouraged to look at the Ten Commandments, to look at the Catechism, to look at the Scriptures, and compare their own behavior and choices with what is Truth according to the Church’s teachings. Christians are encouraged to pray and reflect on their lives, listening to God’s still, small voice in their hearts, drawing attention to areas for change.

This is an important part of a Christian’s faith journey. You have to know where you are, spiritually, in order to move forward and grow in Christ. However, there is another aspect to self-examination that is discussed far less, but is just as important.

Self-examination can also be used to recognize your growth on your faith walk. Just as you look into your heart to identify areas that need improvement, you can look into your heart to identify areas in which you have improved.

Have you been studying Scripture to learn more about prayer? How has your prayer life changed? This is self-examination.

Have you been working to eliminate gossip from your life? When was the last time you gossiped? What has taken gossip’s place in your life? This is self-examination.

As Christians, it can be easy to fall into the trap of seeing only what we’re doing wrong. Many church pastors preach “fire and brimstone” sermons every Sunday, scaring the Hell out of the congregation (pun intended) by reminding them of their sins. And that’s one way to do it, sure.

But don’t forget the other side of the coin.

Be aware of where you need improvement. This is how you’ll grow closer to the Lord. But don’t lose sight of how you actually are growing closer to the Lord.

And may the peace of our Lord be with you always.

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Nicole

In which I feel incapable

When I had my son, I was all about breastfeeding. I was eager for the bonding that would come from our time together, and I was happy that there would be something only I could give him. I admit I had a somewhat glamorized vision of what it meant to breastfeed, but I was ready to work through any challenges that would come up so I could give my son the best nutrition I could.

At about four months old, Wyatt wasn’t growing as much as his pediatrician wanted. He was eating frequently, his diapers were normal, and he seemed active and alert. But his growth was slowing, and Dr. M– suggested we start rice cereal with formula to give him extra calories. After a while of doing rice cereal, she also suggested we start supplementing with formula. Somewhere in there, my milk seemed to be drying up, so supplementing with formula became switching to formula. I was a little disheartened, but it was more important that my son got the nutrition he needed.

Lilly Anne, 4 months old

When I was preparing for the birth of my daughter, Lilly, I wanted to breastfeed for at least a year. Since she was my second child, I thought it would be different (better). I knew what to expect, after all. At the end of April, I welcomed my beautiful daughter to the world. She nursed well, and we fell into an easy routine with her feedings.

At her four-month check-up at the end of August, Dr. T– noted that she wasn’t gaining weight very well. She’s been eating frequently, her diapers are normal, and she seems active and alert. But her growth has slowed considerably, and Dr. T– suggested rice cereal with formula to give her extra calories. (Sound familiar?) I was reluctant to supplement this time around because of what happened with Wyatt, but again, I know I need to do what’s best for my daughter. And though things seemed to be repeating themselves, I was right about one thing: this time was different.

The first night I gave her formula before bed, she took it well. She slept long, and I even woke up before she did. And I immediately noticed that the all-too-familiar feeling of sore fullness that usually came with my mornings to let me know Lilly hadn’t eaten in a while…wasn’t there. Despite having skipped a feeding and gone about six hours overnight, my body wasn’t aching to nurse. In fact, when I did nurse her that morning, she nursed briefly, then got mad. She didn’t seem to be getting any milk.

My milk was drying up. Again. And despite trying nearly every suggestion for increasing my supply, it’s just dwindled. So Lilly, at four months old, is a bottle baby.

When I figured it out, I immediately remembered Wyatt’s infancy. Maybe my perspective was skewed. Maybe it wasn’t supplementing that led to my milk drying up with him. Maybe it was my milk drying up that led to supplementing.

I’ve come to the conclusion that my body simply doesn’t nurse after four months. I don’t know what it is about that age that changes my body, but that’s what’s happened.

I won’t be nursing Lilly for a year. In fact, she’s been weaned already. And while I know that there’s nothing wrong with bottle feeding, I miss those quiet middle-of-the night moments when I pulled her into bed with me and nursed her until we both dozed off. I miss the simplicity of nursing. I miss the intimate connection it creates between mother and child.

I’m thankful for the time I was able to nurse my children, especially since I know my sister (and many others) weren’t able to nurse their children for that long, or at all. But that doesn’t mean I’m not still struggling with the fact that my body wouldn’t provide the most basic need for my children. That I’m incapable of nursing them the way I want.

Ultimately, of course, what’s most important is the health of my children. I’m not going to continue trying to nurse my daughter knowing she’s not getting enough nutrition. What they need is far more important than my ideal vision of motherhood.

Because motherhood is never ideal, is it? We know what we’d like to happen, but what actually happens is often very different. And so far, it’s always been better.

Besides, rocking my daughter to sleep in my arms is just as sweet and quiet a moment.