Wednesday, December 30, 2015

I resolve to just Be Inspired

The holiday hamster wheel we’ve all been riding at a fierce pace for more than a month has changed speeds in the last day or two, and will hopefully come to a screeching halt after this upcoming New Year’s weekend. We will all settle into 2016, and with it an opportunity to start fresh.

New Year’s resolutions can be a bit of a cliché, albeit they’re on the minds of many seeking a greater peace-of-mind, body and/or soul in the coming year. Most of us make them, only to be discouraged within weeks by our lack of inspiration. There’s not any bad excuse for our slacking ways. We get distracted with life, and its demands…work, kids (and their homework, their sports, their events and commitments), church, house work, etc., etc. And then, someone goes and gets sick, which inevitably always blows mommy’s priorities to pot! Or, perhaps we set our sights too high to begin with? No matter the reason, most years, we start out January with a bang, and end it in a worse place than we were before it started.

So, in an attempt to not be discouraged a month from now, I resolve to not set any established resolutions this year. No weight loss goals. No resolutions to be tidier, or healthier. No high expectations set for the type of wife and mother I need to be in 2016. No New Year’s lists are being made or being checked twice before midnight on Thursday by this harried full-time working wife and mother-of-two. Just a simple resolution to do my best each day to simply Be Inspired.

It’s a directive that will surely entail a re-evaluation each and every day, based upon the course my life takes. It will, in and of itself, entail a more conscious effort to pull myself up by my bootstraps on a daily basis. And, on days when I can’t muster the strength to do that, I had better make sure I’m not far from my parish’s chapel, where I can meet My God and quiet myself in his presence. Whatever the case on any given day, I will feed my soul. For this place deep within is where the inspiration lies. And, I’m confident if I resolve to just Be Inspired in 2016, my whole self and family will benefit in ways I never imagined possible a year from now. Simple inspiration fosters far greater action on its own that impacts every aspect of my body, mind and soul.

In the coming days I will close this chapter of my life entitled “2015” feeling encouraged by the peace one can acquire by being “10% Happier” (Dan Harris, 2014). Just like millions of other Americans, I will spend a bit of time these next few days pondering where I’ve been this past year, and where I’m headed.  I look back and remember discouraging moments. I recall words said that I wish I could re-tract. I am disappointed by particular opportunities where I may not have selected the high road, and was led down paths I wish I hadn’t traveled. At times this past year, my life journey stripped me of my character, and even of my dignity. I was knocked down a notch or two. But, I’ve discovered that when I’m down is always when I’m more inclined to let My God in. And, it’s here that he taught me the value of having a humbler, more peaceful heart.

This past April (not even a week after we celebrated his death and resurrection at Easter), I narrowly escaped a black wall cloud headed straight towards me at St. Louis Lambert International Airport. I had just completed one of the most inspiring conferences I’d ever attended and was anxious to get home to my family when the storm hit. More scared than I can recall being in my adult life, I was literally brought to my knees during that severe storm outbreak that occurred just moments before I was due to board my plane. I was alone, and I was scared. It was just me…and My God.

Later that April night, he met me in my St. Louis hotel room. He woke me in the dead of night with the charge to bring up a certain Matt Maher song on You Tube. I wept as the words to “Hold Us Together” were sang. Then, he inspired me to meditate for the very first time in my life, which introduced me to a whole new dimension of personal peace I’ve not ever known. Little did I realize he was preparing me for challenges that lie ahead. But, then again, that’s often how My God operates. It’s in these challenges that we can choose to either wither or grow.

Mindful meditation brought a far better peace to my mind and soul in 2015 than I’ve ever known, and I’m eager for more of it. I resolve to continue to work on quieting my active mind, and finding “my center” on a regular basis. I have an inner voice that seems to never shut up. However, I have discovered that the more I consciously quiet my mind through meditation, the more peaceful I become on the outside. I am more inclined to respond versus react when I’m “present” and not focused on the past or the future. This year taught me just how much my soul actually craves the peace, love and joy of the present moment. I resolve to continue feeding my soul in the New Year with daily inspiration.

It’s so ironic that I find it most difficult to be the best version of myself to the ones I love the most. My husband and two boys are my heart and soul, yet they are the ones who see the ugliest version of me on a regular basis. They see me tired and grouchy and impatient. They listen to my rants and react to my regular barking out of perpetual daily chores to keep the household running like a well-oiled machine.  But, how much peace, love and joy do they actually receive from me? I’ve struggled with this question in recent weeks, and have resolved to make it a little more evident to these precious people in 2016. Inevitably, if I follow through with the personal resolution to just Be Inspired, the ones I love the most will reap the positive benefits of this more “present” wife and mommy.

As I look back, I can whole-heartedly attest that my faith and prayer life strengthened greatly over the course of this past year. I've gained a bit more patience and far more perspective. I've learned to shut up a little quicker, and I do a better job these days of just responding versus reacting. For the first time in a long time, my year is concluding on a much more encouraging note than it began. But, there's far more work to be done.

At midnight this Thursday night we will hear the famous Scottish folk song, “Auld Lang Syne.” The hymn begins by posing a rhetorical question as to whether it is right that old times be forgotten. I say absolutely not. Never forget, as our pasts encourages pronounced inspiration. But, always forgive…ourselves and others…for that’s where the liberation lies. Freedom from our own personal chains fosters peace, and in centered peace we find boundless love and joy. So, here’s to an inspired 2016, full of peace, love and joy.

Auld Lang Syne
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup!
and surely I’ll buy mine!
And we'll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.


We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.


We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.


And there’s a hand my trusty friend!
And give me a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

tra·di·tion * trəˈdiSH(ə)n/

Tradition is a word we hear a lot this time of year. According to Merriam-Webster, its definition stems from the Latin word traditio, which means “the action of handing over.” In twenty-first century America, it’s termed as “a way of thinking, behaving, or doing something that has been used by the people in a particular group, family, society, etc., for a long time.” Traditions often provide a source of identity to those who participate, strengthen family bonds and offer comfort and security.
No matter the struggles and strife that may occur within our families throughout the year, Christmas traditions always bring us back to center. These are what create that joy we feel in our hearts as adults when recalling the holidays we experienced as children. They’re what make our souls warm and our faces smile when we think about Christmas.
I remember our annual Christmas Eve trip downtown in the early 80’s to see the festive displays at Pogue’s and Shilito’s, and the CG&E train display, and Fountain Square adorned with twinkling lights. My dad still occasionally mentions the year one of the talking reindeer told me I “might be a little greedy!” Thankfully I don’t recall that episode! Santa would always drop off one gift for my sister and I on Christmas Eve morning that would accompany us downtown later that day. I particularly remember the year Rainbow Bright was in her heyday, and she joined us on our holiday city visit later that afternoon.

Chris and I took our boys downtown this season to ice skate at Fountain Square, and they were over-the-moon excited! We attended Cincinnati Reds’ Fan Fest down at the Duke Energy Convention Center first on that Friday evening in early December, and then walked the several blocks up to Fountain Square to the holiday ice rink. After about a half hour in line, and then the Zamboni’s inopportune cleaning right as we were fitted for our horribly uncomfortable ice skates, we finally checked into the rink about 10 pm that night. After a little more than an hour on the ice, we shut the place down well after 11. And, on the way home stopped by United Dairy Farmers for a midnight ice cream treat.  Our boys are certainly at a prime age to remember all the exciting details of our downtown holiday experience this year. Thankfully there were no mishaps on the ice!

The Murray's in downtown Cincinnati for a fun ice skating adventure.

I recall decorating my grandma and grandpa Stranko’s Christmas tree each year as a young girl with all the women in our family, and that memory warms my heart to this day. My grandma would leave that tree up until Valentine’s Day nearly every year if she could! And, who could forget my father’s silly Christmas tapes he would unbury each holiday season that included carols that no one else on this earth has ever heard. My sister and I still twitch when we hear Barbara Streisand’s version of Jingle Bells! 

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation has also been a great family tradition that began when my family saw it in the theater on New Year’s Eve the year it came out – 1989! We would watch it on VHS (and later, DVD) at least a dozen times during the Christmas season every year, beginning with Thanksgiving weekend, and always culminating with a viewing during our Christmas Eve celebration with Dad’s side of the family, before heading to midnight mass. The one-liners from that movie are thrown out all year long in The Goodman Family! “Oh, Eddie... If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn't be more surprised than I am now.”

Special holiday traditions would certainly become a part of our Murray Family Christmas season. Some began before our boys were even born, like our Travel Tree. Some we incorporated into our household once the boys came along, like St. Nick and “Elfy.” And, others were just born this year – like our journey out to the tree farm for a real tree, and our Advent wreath centerpieces on the dining room table. The boys love this stuff, and all of it makes my soul smile from the inside out!

The Travel Tree
I brought home an ornament from Santa Cruz, CA during our honeymoon up and down the California Coast in July of 2000. I honestly didn’t think much about it, other than it being a cute little keepsake from our honeymoon that would adorn our family Christmas tree for years to come. Then, the following year we took several vacations, and I picked up an ornament from each locale – Key West & Key Largo, Cancun, etc. And, the following year we ventured down to Florida – Jacksonville and Amelia Island and then on over to Tampa, Clearwater and the like. At each destination, I picked up an ornament. By the time we built our new home in 2004, I had accumulated quite the collection of destination-based ornaments from our travels, and the idea occurred to me to buy a Christmas tree for our bedroom that holiday season. The Travel Tree was born!
The Travel Tree is a 5' artificial tree that is placed in our bedroom each year, and is adorned with
memories from all our many travels since 2000.
Truth-be-known, the Travel Tree is Chris’s favorite Murray tradition. It’s entertaining to re-visit all the great places we’ve traveled through the years – be it a family vacation, a work trip or just something fun we experienced regionally together on our boat. The newly-added ornaments of that year are always the first to be hung each year, and then we continue on hanging each of them, one at a time, recalling something fun about that location. Sometimes I’ve had to be creative – like when we went to Cabo San Lucas and I was unsuccessful with finding an ornament, so I converted a magnet into one that Christmas. Or, when we ventured down to Lake Cumberland a few years back…there’s an unsinkable keychain in the shape of a red life jacket hanging on my tree from that getaway. 

Our Lake Cumberland "ornament" is actually a floating key chain.
The boys’ favorites are the Disney ornaments - I'm sure for all the "magical" memories the destination conjures up in their little minds from our family vacation there in 2013. They are now old enough to remember the origins of many of the ornaments that cover our Travel Tree, like Hilton Head, The Outer Banks, and The Smoky Mountains. But, I love fielding the many questions that arise each year as they hang up ornaments from destinations they have not visited. One of my favorites is that round, red Las Vegas ornament. Little does Connor know he was our most treasured Vegas souvenir from our vacation to Sin City in 2005!

Ornaments from Disney, Hilton Head and Vegas are just a few of the many highlights of The Travel Tree. 
St. Nick
Santa Claus found his way to America, thanks to the rich tradition of St. Nick in European countries. In many places St. Nicholas is the main gift giver. His feast day, St. Nicholas Day, is December 6, which falls early in the Advent season. In some European countries, he arrives in the middle of November and moves about the countryside, visiting schools and homes to find out if children have been good. Other places he comes in the night and finds carrots and hay for his horse or donkey along with children's wish lists. Small treats are left in shoes or stockings so the children will know he has come. It’s a tradition that has been passed down from generation-to-generation from Europe over to America.

The celebration of St. Nick is popular among Catholic families in the United States. I was raised Catholic although, I didn’t attend Catholic school, and my household was certainly not engrained in Catholic tradition. I attended CCD (now known as PRP), and often times it was my Papa who brought me to church on Sundays. I spent a lot of time at my maternal grandparent’s house when I was young and befriended two neighbor girls, Holly and Lisa, who ironically attended church and school where my household now attends – St. Bernadette. These friends were who first taught me about St. Nick – primarily because they always received fun little treats from this visitor the first week of December every year. I often wondered why this guy didn’t stop by my house too, and assumed it was a “Catholic school thing.”

My paternal grandparents immigrated to America from Holland (The Netherlands) after World War II. I was blessed to have known my Dutch family overseas for many years, the last living family member of which passed away this past year – Aunt Reik. My dad’s aunt, Aunt Reik, adored her American family, and would often send little trinkets to us around the holidays. When Connor was born, she sent him a pair of wooden shoes (“clumpers”). When these arrived, the wheels immediately began to turn regarding how I could weave his Dutch heritage into these shoes. And, the Murray St. Nick tradition was born. Owen also received a pair of wooden shoes from Aunt Reik when he was born a few years later, and she even sent a treasured picture of herself in the Amstelveen market when she purchased them!
Aunt Reik in the Amstelveen market where she purchased Owen's wooden shoes in 2008.
Every December 5th, the boys set their clumpers outside their bedroom doors. This past year, after I read a brief story to them that evening about the history of St. Nick, Connor got the idea to cut up some apples (since we didn’t have any carrots) and leave them in their shoes for St. Nick’s horse (tradition has it that he makes his rounds on a horse or donkey instead of a reindeer). And, even though St. Nick brings my boys pretty much the same thing every single year, a gingerbread kit and two wooden clumpers full of candy treats, they still get excited. We’ve made this tradition not only something they treasure as Catholic children, but one that keeps their Dutch roots alive and well in their hearts. 

The boys in their "clumpers" on St. Nick Eve.
My mother-in-law discovered The Elf on the Shelf in 2009 shortly after this holiday tradition hit the market. She was so excited to bring him and his book over to the house. I hid it that first night in late November on the shelf in our entry way, and my oldest, only four at the time, got such a kick out of this jolly little elf. At only 18-months-old, Owen was too small to really get the gist of it, but enjoyed the hunt every morning with his big brother.

Since then, “Elfy” has made his annual appearance the weekend our first tree of the house goes up – generally the weekend after Thanksgiving (this year he arrived a weekend late, since we were a bit delayed getting our trees up). He is a mischievous little character, hiding in places that are sometimes more obvious than others. The boys’ favorites include the toilet paper party he has every year in the bathroom, and when he ends up dragging out their toys for his own nighttime amusement. This year that silly little elf even took a little poo and left behind some remnants on the toilet bowl! “Elfy” always gets into the cookies when we bake our annual holiday batch, and the night before that this year, he was hanging from the oven door in great anticipation!
"Elfy" makes a lot of mischief during our Christmas season!
What I love most about this holiday tradition is the boys’ excitement. My ten-year-old still barrels down the steps each morning in December wondering where Santa’s helper could be hiding. They leave him notes, and stare at him magically. I know the dynamic of this tradition in our home will probably change in the next year or so, but I’m confident we will morph it into a family hunt as they get older. What a fun way to celebrate the “magic” this season holds.

A new tradition
Shortly after Connor was born in November of 2005, Chris and I bought a beautiful 10’ artificial tree for our great room. We knew the next few years of having little ones toddling around would make for mayhem during the holidays, and an artificial would be far more practical. Me being the perfectionist that I am love to be able to mold and shape the branches of an artificial tree around each ornament. I also like being able to keep my tree up well into January if I wish. I can drag it up the basement steps on Thanksgiving weekend, and then back down whenever I please. I’m a Type A personality, and us Type A’s love an artificial tree! However, last year was the final year we could muster out of that beautiful artificial tree. We ditched it after the holidays.

Back in November I suggested to my husband that we take the boys out on a tree hunt this year. I didn’t want to purchase a new artificial tree, because we plan to move in another year or two and I don’t want to invest in another artificial tree not knowing if our next house will have high ceilings or not. He agreed. This would be a fun family outing, seeing as though our boys have never experienced a real tree in our home at Christmastime.

We picked the boys up from school the Thursday after Thanksgiving and headed out to Corsi's Tree Farm in the neighboring county east of ours. Chris and I had purchased several trees from Corsi’s when we were DINKs (dual-income-no-kids), but hadn’t ventured out to the multi-acre farm in many years. We were delighted to find only one other car in the parking light when we arrived around 3:30. We stepped inside the large heated barn that also poses as a small gift shop that offers customers holiday music, hot chocolate, and other festive treats. There was even the family’s large yellow lab lying next to the wood burning stove…an added extra for the boys! We told the owners what we were looking for – a 10’ Frasier Fir, and he advised where on the farm we should look. And, so we ventured down a long trail with our hot chocolate and Chris’s hand saw. The big trees were in the far back lots. About 45 minutes later, Chris found it – a beautiful Fraser tucked in between a couple of other large trees.
"Family Selfie" at the tree farm!
After about 30 minutes of sawing, I placed a call to the owner for “reinforcements” in the form of a chain saw and a John Deer Gator. They hauled our monster tree (and our boys) back up to command central on The Gator. After another cup of hot chocolate, and some friendly conversation with the farm owners, we loaded up our new tree into the back of our Ford F250 and headed for the house. 

Our boys and their tree.
We spent the next four days decorating our new holiday treasure. This tree is lit with more than 1200 white lights! Sufficed to say, the ladder stayed in our living room for nearly a week as this anal-retentive mother tweaked and re-tweaked her branches, but it was worth it. What memories this real tree brought to our family this season! The boys will never forget seeing half of daddy’s body stuck under that tree at the tree farm as he attempted to saw it down. Or, Owen’s little Charlie Brown tree he found that day (it was the top of another tree that had been sawed off, but they hauled it for him nonetheless, just the same as our big one, and even wrapped it for the ride home). His little tree sits in our living room with virtually no needles left, adorned with all his favorite little ornaments. And, Connor will never forget the moment he did the honors of cutting the rope that held up the branches once we got her stable in the stand…it was like a scene from National Lampoons Christmas Vacation! This tree is HUGE, and it’s perfect for us, and the memories it has brought us this Christmas season will leave a lasting impression for years to come. And, after this first experience of a real tree from the tree farm, we’re now confident this has become a new Murray family tradition. 
"Before" and "after."
This year we also incorporated two Advent wreaths to the mix of our festive home (one wreath for one child, and one for the other, so we would not have a fight on our hands each week when it came time to light the wreath!). Our boys learn about Advent each year during the Christmas season at their school, but we had never committed family time to celebrating the season with this Catholic tradition. Our parish conducted an Advent wreath event the first Sunday of Advent where families could make a small wreath and learn a little more about what this symbol stands for in the Catholic Church. Each Sunday evening during December, we spent a few minutes in reflection at our dining room table discussing what the Advent wreath symbolizes, and then we would light the candles for the week. The boys enjoyed the weekly lighting…especially Connor, who is oddly enamored with fire right now! I hope to carry this tradition through the years in our home, as it not only re-iterates important traditions the boys learn during the holiday season at school, but helps them to understand that Christmas traditions can be very simple and basic, and are not always centered around such pomp and circumstance.

Our family's advent wreaths.
What I love most about these traditions Chris and I have created for our own family are the smiles I get to experience on our boys’ faces that will hopefully be transformed into joy in their hearts as they grow older, just as our own childhood holiday traditions left an indelible footprint in our minds of what the season brings. I can only hope they will experience this joy well into adulthood whenever they think back on the season of Christmas and recall how they experienced it in our household. And, maybe they will even carry some of these traditions into their own families. I firmly believe this sense of childlike joy is what Jesus wants us to experience, as this season is all about families and love, just like it was more than 2,000 years ago in that little town of Bethlehem.

Monday, December 14, 2015

December 14: Not Just Another Day.

Mornings in the Murray household are pretty chaotic, especially the last half hour before heading out the door. Mommy is finishing up getting ready, all the while coaxing the boys off the couch and upstairs to get dressed and to brush their teeth. It’s a mad dash to get out the door by 7:35, and more often than not it generally involves me yelling, the two of them poking one another incessantly and then being sassy, and me yelling some more. By the time I drop them off at school, I feel like l have ran a half marathon. I anxiously rush them into their school building, and then take a deep breath once back in the car. At last…peace and quiet!

I visit our parish chapel most mornings after drop-off for 10 or 15 minutes of quiet time with My God, always praying for the safety and protection of my boys right next door, as well as the opportunity to be more patient with them later in the day. Most Mondays I light a candle for our week, praying for specific needs our family may have. It’s my time with My God. It quiets my soul and prepares me for my day, while also settles me from the craziness experienced just a few moments earlier.

I’m confident a similar morning experience is shared by many young families. The hurried frenzy…the "listening ears" turned to their OFF position…the words of frustration sometimes spoken to start our day that we wish we could take back once we drop them off. A deep breath, a few prayers, and some peace and quiet later, we think of our children and smile. But, 30 minutes prior to that, we are pulling our hair out!

On December 14, 2012, I’m confident there were many young families going through the same maddening morning routine. They dropped their kiddos off at school, or pushed them along onto their busses, thankful for the peace and quiet that occurred once their little darlings were gone. But, a few dozen mommies and daddies in Newtown, Connecticut didn’t have the chance to make it right later that day. Three years ago today 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and 6 adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary. Prior to driving to the school, Lanza shot and killed his mother at their Newtown home.  As first responders arrived at the scene, Lanza committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.

Every parent’s worst nightmare occurred in Newtown, CT that dreadful morning three years ago today.

My December 14, 2012 was a day like most. A crazy morning trying to get my then-first grader and pre-schooler out the door. They weren’t quite as sassy as they are now as fourth and first graders, but our mornings were still chaotic! I went about my day, working as a Marketing Manager for Panera Bread. We had just opened the downtown Cincinnati / Fountain Square bakery-cafe, and if my memory serves me correct, I was downtown that day to support those post opening efforts.  After work, I went straight over to my Oma’s house to pick her up for our annual holiday shopping outing. I would load her and her wheelchair into my Toyota Highlander, and we would venture out for dinner at Bob Evan’s, and then hit a few stores that she needed holiday odds-and-ends from, like Kohl’s, Meijer, etc. It was hard for Oma to get in and out of the car at that point – she was 87, and when it was cold, her “wooden leg” got stiff…as did the rest of her body. So, other than dinner and a stroll through Kohl’s in her wheelchair, she would stay in the car while I ran in and out picking up the various items she needed for her family members and friends. She would stay in the car and listen to Christmas carols on my radio.

During our holiday journey around Highland Heights, KY that evening Oma asked if I’d heard about the horrible school shooting in Connecticut that day. I had not. Although I am field based, I often go about my day with the radio off. I either pray, or just take in the peace and quiet within the confines of my vehicle. I hadn’t watched any TV that day or listened to the radio until I tuned in the Christmas carols for her that evening. She told me a bit about what she’d watched on the TV earlier that day, and I just shook my head – yet another school shooting, I thought.

After getting Oma settled into her condo with all her holiday flare that night, I started home. I hadn’t been back to the house since before school and work that day. My aunt Kathy had picked up the boys from school, and hung with them until their daddy got home, since I had an evening with Oma planned right after work. I merged onto Interstate 275 and settled in for my 20-minute drive home and thought I would catch up on the school shooting details on Cincinnati’s am station, 700 WLW.

It was far more horrific than I’d even imagined.  A young monster walked into an unassuming elementary school in a small Connecticut town and opened fire. Twenty innocent first graders were murdered that morning, along with six teachers / administrators in a senseless act of evil. My mind immediately went to my first grader, Connor. Our school is a small private Catholic school in Amelia, OH. It’s totally inconspicuous, tucked into middle-class suburbia, with kids who are taught morals and values and how to love their God, and parents who are invested in the academics of their children. But, Sandy Hook Elementary seemed much the same in many ways.

Twenty little first graders went off to school that morning, probably some of which experienced the mad-dash craziness (just like mine do most mornings), but never lived to see their mommy and daddy that evening. They had hopes of Santa coming in 11 days, and thoughts of playing in the snow during their upcoming Christmas break, and all the hopes and dreams that little six and seven year olds can hold. All of this was stolen by the devil in disguise carrying a semi-automatic weapon.

The radio station spent a few minutes talking about this senseless act, and then proceeded to play one of those montage songs that combines a heart-wrenching tune with words spoken from the event. I could barely stand what I heard. First responders speaking of the horror they encountered that day; teachers crying tears of fear for what occurred at their place of employment; neighbors recounting the moments they saw unfolding in front of them at the neighboring school…all set to Silent Night.

I got home in tears and hugged my boys that night, thankful to be in their presence, as did probably millions of American parents the night of December 14, 2012.

I recently completed the book Choosing Hope, an inspirational memoir by Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis, a first-grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary who saved her entire class of first graders on that horrific morning by piling all sixteen of them (and herself) into a single-occupancy bathroom within her classroom, only feet from the massacre taking place outside the door. The first grade class next door to them was blown to pieces. The unit in the book entitled MY DARKEST HOUR is hard to read – nearly 80 pages outlining the gripping way this tragedy occurred for her and her little “friends.”

First comes the initial blast of gunfire, then the sound of shattering glass. The hair on my arms stands up. I know right away what I’m hearing. Columbine is happening in the place we call Pleasantville. How can it be? Someone with a weapon is shooting their way into our perfect school. My classroom is the first in the building. We are in grave danger. Sitting targets. I jump up, run to the door, pull it closed, and switch off the lights. Thanks God for the dark blue construction paper I taped to the door for a lockdown drill and forgot to take it down. I can’t lock the door. My keys are clear across the room, on top of my desk, and there’s no time to fetch them. For what? A locked door is no match for a magazine of bullets. If we’re going to live, we have to find a hiding place. Fast. I look around the classroom. My students don’t seem to understand what is happening. One, the little girl I call our fashionista, because she wears things like leopard prints and leggings, stands there smiling. I can’t tell if she is somehow oblivious to the sounds or frozen scared. The windows don’t open wide enough for a first-grader to climb through, and who knows what or who is waiting outside. Evil is coming for us and there’s nowhere to go.

Where can we hide? Where can we hide? There’s only one place. The bathroom – a tiny first-grade-sized lavatory with only a toilet and a toilet-paper dispenser inside. Its dimensions are about the size of two first-grade desks pushed together. Maybe three feet by four feet. There is so little space that the sink is on the outside, in the classroom. I have never been inside of the bathroom before. An adult wouldn’t fit comfortably. How in God’s name will I get sixteen of us in there? It is our only chance. The impossible will have to become possible.

This heroic, twenty-six-year-old teacher crammed 16 little first graders and herself into that tiny space where they hunkered down for nearly an hour until the SWAT team coaxed them out (she was leery at first to open the door…partially in shock, but primarily just terrified). “Mrs. Roig” saved 16 little lives that day, yet felt lost in body, mind and spirit for quite some time after the tragedy. She couldn’t get the sight of the blood-stained hallways her class had to walk through in order to exit the building that day, or the shrieks she heard from students next door to her classroom as they uttered their last words on this earth before being murdered. She had lost colleagues, and her school community had lost 20 other first graders…it very well likely could have been her class. Her and her students came closer to death than any of us would dare to imagine, and it stunned her for a while. But, she didn’t let it define her, and soon committed herself to making this mess her message of hope. She now travels the country as an inspirational speaker for teachers and academic organizations, and is the Executive Director of Classes 4 Classes, Inc., an organization whose mission is to connect classrooms to care and to teach every child in our nation that our lives are not separate but very connected.

A November 2013 report issued by the Connecticut State Attorney's office concluded that Adam Lanza acted alone and planned his actions on that December 14 morning in 2012 when he opened fire on an innocent school, but no evidence collected provided any indication as to why he performed this horrific act, or why he targeted this particular school. Case in point – it could happen anywhere. Evil knows no boundaries.

Most mornings are crazy for my household, and I admit to being one of those mommies who flies off the handle more often than not in our early-morning frenzies. But, since reading “Miss Roig’s” book these past few weeks, I’ve been a little calmer in the mornings. I try to take the the time to not only give my boys a kiss before sending them on their way, but look them in their eyes and hug them tight (even if I don’t get a warm embrace in return!).

Today, after dropping them off I headed over to the parish chapel and asked God’s grace on the twenty-six angels who lost their lives in that senseless act of violence three years ago – only 11 days from the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. My heart felt heavy for the families of those 20 little innocent first graders (my youngest is now in first grade), who would now be in the fourth grade (just like my oldest is today).

I get to spend the next 11 days among the frenzied holiday countdown of dealing with Christmas tantrums, and wrapping their presents in preparation for the big celebration, and somewhat dreading the two weeks they will be off school and home pulling one another’s hair out each and every day. How blessed I am to have these worries. And, may God bless those Sandy Hook mommies and daddies who don’t have their fourth graders to hold this holiday season, for the fourth Christmas in a row. I pray a peace that surpasses understanding is upon their hearts on this day, and I thank God I still have my baby boys to hold this Christmas.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


We’re upon one of my favorite weeks of the year – Thanksgiving Week! It’s a short school and work week, there’s a plethora of delicious food and quality family time to be had, my birthday is generally thrown into the mix (depending on where the 24th falls in regards to Thanksgiving), as well as a traditional day of shopping with my mother- and sister-in-law on Black Friday. So, on this Thanksgiving Eve, I thought it appropriate to show a bit of gratitude for what I have and where I’ve been this year. Two-thousand-and-fifteen taught me some life lessons, as well as led me down a few rocky roads (that produced its share of tears along the way), but the journey carried me to a new destination – one of self-discovery, where peace, love and joy are present more in my life than ever before. And, I feel truly blessed.

My love
First, and foremost, I have a God that loves me despite my daily flaws, and a family that loves me nearly just as much as My God does! It’s hard to fathom being absolved of my daily shortcomings over and over again, and yet still being blessed with enormous grace, but that’s the God I serve. This year brought me face-to-face with some eye-opening moments of personal failure, yet My God knows my intentions, and he knows those are genuine, and for that, I am thankful. He loves me despite how many times I mess up, and he even sent his own son to the cross so I could live a life of liberty here on this earth he created. Pretty amazing stuff!

What makes me equally amazed is that My God loves and trusts me so much he gifted me a man that truly is my soul mate, and two boys that our love created together. We aren’t “perfect”, but my family-of-four is pretty fantastic. I have two children that believe in God, and know where to find him. They pray every day at their school, and at home, and are becoming good Christian beings. They are two boys who would rather be home hanging with their mommy and daddy on any given day than anywhere else. They know where their heart is most content, and where they are always safe and sound.

I have a husband who is my very best friend, and that makes me the center of his universe on most days, including on my birthday, when, every year, he plans a little something special that includes family and close friends. Yesterday was no exception! In addition to a new car stereo for my Toyota Highlander that is approaching 160,000 miles (me and my Highlander are “tight”…I will be driving her until she kicks the bucket!), he arranged dinner downtown at Joe’s Crab Shack for my family and our “besties”. It was a festive night of celebration. Jack Sparrow serenaded me to “The Birthday Song.” I’m one lucky girl.
All my "little friends" with Jack Sparrow at Joe's Crab Shack on my 39th birthday celebration.

My discovery
This year, I’m thankful to have discovered a peace of mind, body, heart and soul through meditation. I’d heard of the term meditation from many in Hollywood-and-beyond, who touted its therapeutic abilities. I had even known a few people through the years that gave it a whirl, but it was never in my realm of consideration. I was far too busy and harried with life’s daily demands to take time out for something like that each day, which in and of itself turns out to be counter-intuitive!

The basic act of meditation involves becoming present and aware of the now, and nothing else, which entails shutting down the constant chatter of the mind. Our minds truly can be our very worst enemies. I can attest that my mind has kept me vehemently stuck in the muck of the past, or has drawn me into a cycle of perpetual worry of the future, while my present continued to coast right on by without me.

I was first exposed to this our-mind-is-not-“us” way of thinking back in 2010 when I read Eckhart Tolle’s Practicing the Power of Now.  Although Tolle and his writings were reinforced by Oprah and her acclaimed book club, his teachings were far too “zen” for me. Not to add, how on earth do you achieve that type of awareness when you’re a full-time working mom of a few real high-maintenance off-spring? And, so I continued on with my multi-tasking ways in the counter-productive existence I was leading.

In 2012, during a time in my life when the pain of the past had truly taken hold of my entire household, The Untethered Soul drew me back to this mindset of finding enlightenment through the path of spiritual consciousness, by reminding me of that adversary I had deep within - “my mind.” By tapping into traditions of meditation and mindfulness, this read was powerful at a time when I truly needed something to just carry me away, like an old Calgon commercial. It proposed a practical perspective that made complete sense to me – it clarified how the development of consciousness can enable us to become present, allowing one to let go of painful thoughts and memories that keep us from achieving happiness and self-realization. I read it and completely agreed with so much of what the author (and spiritual teacher), Michael Singer, suggested. But, again, life continued to “happen,” keeping me trapped within the grips of the constant chatter within. I knew who I wanted to be, but had such trouble finding her and staying within that moment.

Then, 2015 happened with one sign after another that led me into the grips of this mindful awareness thing and the acceptance of my mind for what it is – my very worst enemy at times! Since harnessing the power of meditation a few months ago, I have seen firsthand some of the positive impacts it can have. Aside for a deeper sense of appreciation for life in general, and a longing to be a better version of myself each and every day, I have also experienced physiological healing I never expected from my regimen of just a few short daily twenty minutes of spiritual meditation. After only about a month of meditation each day, I discontinued my daily 50 mg dose of Zoloft (for anxiety and depression) that’s been in my system for the better part of the last ten years (except for during my pregnancies); I am  back on a consistent workout regimen a few days a week that includes a combination of strength training at my gym and consistent 5k runs (often times without “my tunes”…I instead take in the natural beauty around me and focus on my breathing for three miles); and, I have less chronic aches and pains. But most importantly, thanks to the power of mindful meditation, I am currently far more focused and committed to daily prayer time with My God than I’ve ever been in my life. Additionally, I am far more aware of the patience I need to put forth in the presence of my boys and am trying harder with each day to be more available to them in mind, heart and soul. Talk about some Amazing Grace!

Jesus is My Peace mediation

My travels
I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have partaken in God’s great earth in several awesome ways this past year. I visited St. Louis a few times for work (one of those visits included a “VIP” dinner on the field at Busch Stadium!), as well as one of my favorite states in our beautiful country – Colorado. I also enjoyed weekly excursions with my family aboard the Good Time’ing, where water therapy always takes firm hold of my soul and immediately drops my blood pressure in an instant! But, the greatest getaway of 2015 for The Murray’s actually occurred by happenstance.

This year was the celebration of 15 years of wedded bliss for Chris and I and we had that “once-in-a-lifetime,” all-inclusive family vacation planned to Playa del Carmen, Mexico. However, this over-committed mother failed to get the boys’ passport registrations into our government in time for our July departure. But, in God’s perfect way, he made it all up to us with a trip we will never forget down to Florida’s southwestern Gulf Coast. We rented a Hurricane deck boat and traveled out into The Gulf from our home base in Cape Coral, and up to Sanibel Island and Captiva. We experienced dolphins, horseshoe crab and manatees in their natural habitat at several uninhabited islands along the way, and at the end of our days, docked the boat right up to our “borrowed” condo that some good friends lent us in the wake of my absentmindedness.  Although Chris and I have been all over The Sunshine State, this was our first visit to the southwest corner of Florida, and it turned out to be one of our most treasured vacations to-date! Yet another fantastic opportunity God proved to us that he works in very mysterious ways…when we least expect it!
Me floating in The Gulf right off the coast of Sanibel Island, FL aboard our rented Hurricane deck boat.

My works
I am genuinely thankful for the blessing of gainful employment and fulfilling careers for both Chris and I. As Senior Marketing Manager for a Panera Bread franchise that encompasses Southwest Ohio, I have had various glimpses of how lucky I am to have a career with a company that does the right things for the right reasons
…from the top of the “food chain” all the way to the bottom. For example, Panera Bread recently launched the Food As It Should Be campaign that emphasizes “clean food,” a transparent menu, and a positive impact in the communities we serve.

In my role with this brand, I have the opportunity to help the less fortunate through various outreach initiatives and events. Most notably, each September I direct an event called the Panerathon to Fight Hunger. This 5k / 10k event raises more than $30,000 in one day from the motivational deeds of nearly 1,300 others in the community, and is nothing less than inspiring! For as much effort as I put into this event each year, I gain all that much more back from the impact I know The Panerathon has on my local community's hunger outreach.

But, it’s not just what I do that makes me feel so blessed, but more importantly, what it allows me to do that makes me most fulfilled in my life. I'm field-based, so I don't have to sit at a desk...and moreover, my job is not the same from one day to the next. Not to add, I can be at school whenever my boys need me. I work from home several days a week, where in between conference calls, I can throw in loads of laundry, and vacuum, and go out in my neighborhood and run for 30 minutes.  Each and every day, I thank My God, for what he’s given me in this career with Panera Bread. This year, my brand enabled my self-discovery to occur, and for that, I am very grateful.

Panera sent me to a life-changing seminar in April (that coincidentally happened to be the week after we celebrated the resurrection of our Lord on Easter). It's here that I came face-to-face with not only my wretched “mind” during the three-day “Mastering Performance” conference, but My God in a near-tornado at the airport as I was attempting my departure back home. I never made it out of St. Louis that scary Thursday night.

I saw the wall cloud coming straight towards me right there in the St. Louis airport terminal that April evening. There was no place to go. The airline attendant left the gate counter in a hurry once he saw it. And, many others scurried to the center of the terminal. I saw a Tornado Evacuation sign at the restroom entrance, and contemplated entering it, but opted to hunker down right outside of it. With Chris still on the phone, I slid down the wall of the bathroom entrance, and prayed for my safety and well-being. That was the first time in my life where I felt completely and utterly “alone.” I thought  if this tornado rips through here, I know no one. Granted, my director, whom took the course with me that week, was in an opposing terminal, but most importantly, the ones I held closest to my heart and soul were hundreds of miles away. I could be blown away…right here and now. Or, in the least bit, torrentially blown into a nearby ditch with debris swirling all around me.

The weather passed by the St. Louis airport that night…by a mile or two. After a few hours,  I settled in for the night over two delicious glasses of Chardonnay and room service at a posh airport Marriott. I was emotional, and exhausted. It didn't take long to fall fast asleep.I was awaken several hours later with an urgency to meditate for the first time in my life. So, I did so, in my darkened hotel room. And, during that session, God literally spoke to me right there. I was called to bring a song by Matt Maher up on You Tube immediately afterwards…a song I’d heard of, but never paid close attention to – “Hold Us Together.”
And love will hold us together
Make us a shelter to weather the storm
And I'll be my brother's keeper
So the whole world will know that we're not alone
This is the first day of the rest of your life...

This moment was what eventually broke me, in the middle of the night, alone in that hotel room. I recalled the terror I felt only a few hours earlier in that airport as I witnessed a wall cloud of darkness approaching me, only a few hours after the completion of three days that were meant to be what changed me. It was only me and My God alone in that St. Louis hotel room that April night. I felt HIS presence in the exact way he wanted me a way I would NEVER forget. Life would not be the same from this moment forward.

I boarded my plane the next morning with much anticipation for who awaited me back home. I would arrive a day later than originally expected, thanks to the storms. It was Friday, and we had baseball games, and family time planned for the entire weekend. I felt so sure of the new direction my life was headed. I would be “better.” Although I always knew he was there, I truly felt My God for the first time during those few hours when I faced impending danger all alone. And, after being kept safe, HE spoke to me in the dead of night.

I was home, and safe, and in the arms of the ones who loved me most. I was ready to take on a whole new world. I turned everything "off" that weekend. No email. No voicemail. No "connection" to the outside world, because the connection I truly needed to focus on was right there in front of me. My world seemed still...and just right for a few days afterwards. Then, the devil attacked in the form of another mom, who was hurting in the same way I had hurt for so many years...from the depths of her soul. I was blind-sided, and stripped of my dignity. I was brought to my knees just as quickly as HE had lifted me up just a few days earlier. It left me utterly discouraged beyond my wildest a way only the devil could produce. There’s no coincidence that this encounter occurred only days after my personal encounter with My God that night in St. Louis. And, I hope I can someday tell her about this time in my life, and what an amazing revelation it brought me, for it's in retrospect that we see our greatest growth. In the meantime, I pray for her every day.

Looking, back on the year, I know April was a turning point. I had the opportunity to grow both personally as well as professionally, thanks to that remarkable conference in St. Louis. I work for a company that wants me to be a better version of myself. This brand understands that if I'm happy, I am more productive, and if I am more productive, they are more productive. It's a win-win for all parties. I'm thankful for my company's "warmth" and the desire to make itself a more amazing brand with each passing year through its people that it helps be more amazing than we were the year before.

As for my husband, it’s been an exhausting career journey over the course of the nearly ten years he’s been striving to find his place. I always took his career for granted, as he was always the grounded one of the two of us. I never realized the foundation a man’s career has on his very existence until the crux of that existence was shaken in our household.

The road to this year has included three career changes for him since 2010, and much heartache and prayer. But, by the grace of God, he is back to the company he originally left Cincinnati Bell for in 2010, and his contentment in that career is what he’s been pleading to HIS GOD for many, many times over during the course of this career crisis for the last decade. He’s doing what he loves, and not only getting great accolades for his service and dedication, but getting paid more than he ever has to do something he truly enjoys. God had a plan for him this whole time. It’s amazing the road that’s brought him here…and only he can attest to that, but he’s finally “home.”

My holiday
The upcoming Advent and Christmas season is something I am looking forward to with great expectation and joy this year. There’s plenty of traditions, like shopping on Black Friday, family gatherings, and my boys’ eyes on Christmas morning, that I look forward to experiencing this year. I look back on the holidays with my family growing up, and no matter the heartache or stress we were dealing with, it tended to be put aside during the holidays, only to be replaced with good cheer and hope.

St. Nick is always a tradition I hold dear in my household. When both my boys were born, my Great Aunt Reik in Holland sent them their very own wooden shoes from the Amstelveen markets. Each year, St. Nick fills those shoes that they leave outside their bedroom doors with little goodies, and sets a wrapped ginger bread house kit next to those shoes. This year will be somewhat bitter-sweet, as my family not only said goodbye to Aunt Reik this past year, but her sister-in-law and best “girlfriend”, my Oma, just a few short months later. My "roots" are now all in heaven with Jesus. And, although I feel sad about this first Christmas without them here, I am thankful my boys have this tradition to once again experience on St. Nick morning that will carry their Dutch heritage far beyond the years their Great Aunt and Oma were here on this earth.

My household will light our first purple Advent candle this Sunday evening, praying for peace that surpasses all understanding this holiday season. We will give thanks for all God has given us this year with each candle we light the following few weeks, in anticipation for that day when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ with much celebration and hoopla in late December. For the kids it means a little something different than us adults, but it’s pretty awesome nonetheless.

My boys' 2015 Advent wreaths adorn our dining room table.

am hopeful for an amazing holiday this year.That’s what this season is all about – hope. Despite our struggles and heartache of the year, Our God wants us to have HOPE for what lies ahead. He wants us to wait with anxious, happy anticipation for the birth of his son, our Lord Jesus Christ on December 25th. And, that’s what Advent is all about – anticipation for the HOPE of our LORD. 

It’s been an amazing, blessed year for me and my house…and we will continue to serve Our Lord. Joshua 24:15 “If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

Happy Thanksgiving, and a joyous Christmas season to all!

Friday, November 20, 2015

The best thing about a bad day: tomorrow.

As a mom, I always have the best of intentions. I start each new day wanting to be patient, supportive, loving and kind to my boys. And, I generally end each day wishing I had done a far better job at all four of these endeavors.

Before motherhood, I had such high expectations of everything I would be someday as "their mother."  Some of this was engrained in me by the heartache left behind after my own mom left us when I was a "tween."  I’m confident my Type-A personality also played a role in the kind of mother I hoped to one day become. The motives behind my intentions are neither here nor there. All I knew was that my someday-children would never doubt the love I would have deep in my soul for them. They would have great confidence knowing that “home” truly would be where their heart resides. My children would know they were loved – in the big ways and the small.
The simple acts my teenage girlfriends partook in with their moms regularly, like a short shopping trip to the mall, lunch on a Saturday afternoon, or a trip to the hair salon together were what laid the foundation for the “perfect” mom I would be someday. Little did those friends back then realize the kind of impact their relationships had on their friend who longed to have what they often took for granted. And, little did I realize how hard it would be to become that "perfect" mom I conjured up in my adolescent mind.

My life revolved around my sports when I was growing up. I played soccer all year round, and basketball and softball in between. There was one teammate in particular who I spent a lot of time with back then. We attended the same school and were on all the same teams. It was often tough for my dad to jockey both myself and my younger sisters' schedules, so I got to know her family quite well. And, I often longed for what she had with her mother. They shopped, they dined out, they did "girl stuff", but more than anything they enjoyed one another's company.

But, she wasn't the only one who seemed to "have it all" in my mind's eye back then.  Many of my team mates' moms were on the sidelines every Sunday for our weekly games. They weren't too busy fulfilling other life obligations to be in attendance for their daughters. And, they were present at the “game of all games." Sadly enough, my mom wasn’t there to see my team clench the state title in Columbus, OH that summer when I was in the eighth grade. Maybe she was at work? Or, there might have just been other things more important in her life to attend to. Whatever the case may be, as a nearly 40-year-old mother-of-two, to this day all I know is my mother was not there to celebrate one of my life’s greatest victories. My dad was there…he was a coach. My little sister was there…I don’t think she had had much of a choice. “Keeta” was there…my biggest supporter, and my confidant…because she wanted to be in attendance to support me. But, mom wasn’t there. And, her absence has lived in the pit of my gut my entire life.
I couldn’t wait to have kids of my own so I could take them out for ice cream “just because.”

Our relationship was severed when she left. And, it took me many years to trust her again. My mother was a wonderful woman that had babies too young. She floated through the first ten years of her adult life unsure of the direction God had planned for her. And, then she spent the second half of it gaining back what she had lost. When she was in her early thirties, she dropped more than 100 pounds, gained a little bit of confidence, and decided it was time to take on a new life, free of the chains she felt within the grips of our household. Granted, our home wasn’t the most peaceful of places. But as a kid, it’s all I knew. And, when she left, a part of me died inside. She left me to be the sister, the daughter, the wife, the homemaker, all in one fair swoop, at the ripe age of 12…and I was angry.

In the last few years of her life, we were blessed with the opportunity to make up for lost time. Even though we never truly had the mother-daughter bond I longed for, we had the chance to mend some of our brokenness. My 19-year-old sister had a young baby boy to care for, and we all three collaborated together to do what families do – we loved and supported each other through it. And, in the midst of that, I grew to “know” my mother in a whole new “adult” way. Seeing her nurture my baby nephew was comforting to my soul (a soul that still longed for her loving embrace). She poured out such unconditional love on that child that I don't believe she was ever able to provide to her own…the kind of embrace you receive that makes you feel completely protected and “home," no matter how old you are. 

I never truly let her back in, though. My heart wanted her friendship in a way that pained me as her adult child, but my mind just couldn't get past the abandoned child from years prior. Then, one day me, my heart and my mind ran out of time.

She left us for good in February of 2005. And, we left this world with her.

I became a mom later that year, and reality hit me like a brick. Losing her at the age of 48 to complications from a brain hemorrhage (only a few weeks before finding out I was pregnant with my first) impacted me as a new mother in ways I never knew existed.

I didn’t have the joy in my heart every day that I expected as a new mom, and I didn’t know why. And, although my baby didn’t sleep well at night, leaving me utterly exhausted and depleted, the darkness didn't lift during the day very often, and in fact lingered for months-on-end. There seemed to be no break from the intensity of my broken heart and soul. The guilt from this lacking, coupled with the grief of losing her, led to post-partum depression…not just once after the birth of my first, but a second time two-and-a-half years later when my second was born. And, the second time it nearly blindsided me. I was utterly lost in mind, body and soul. I missed her. I missed what we never had. I missed what we could have been. I was broken.
God blessed me with two healthy, beautiful boys, yet I had no joy in my heart to give them or my husband. It was a dark place to reside. Looking back on those days, I wish I could tell my younger self to just breathe. I would tell her that being a mom is the toughest job imaginable, but the most rewarding. I would tell her that “this too shall pass.” I would tell myself that even though today is a tough day, the good news is we have the blessing of tomorrow to wake up and try to be a little “better” than we were the day before. I would also remind her that not only are you grieving the loss of a mother, but the loss of a dream.  She was never coming back. She would never meet my boys. She would never get to see me be a mom. We would never get to be moms together. I gave no credence to the fact that this had crushed my spirit in unfathomable ways. It left me bitter, and broken during a time when all I wanted was to experience joy.

Now, ten years after first being introduced to motherhood, I can attest that it gets easier with time in many ways, but my heart is still tested to the core. I’ve done a whole lot of soul searching and healing. My faith has grown ten-fold as I’ve watched my husband and my boys and I mold and shape our own little family-of-four into that blessing I always longed for. And, I know for a fact that she’s proud.

The road traveled into a more mature and confident mother has not been without heartache and total frustration. There are many nights I’ve gone to bed just completely horrified with how I’ve conducted myself in the midst of my boys, let alone my God.  I’ve grappled with what I could have done or said differently in certain circumstances. My words of angst and irritation towards them often play out repeatedly in my mind. Ten years ago it was guilt because the joy was sucked from my soul. Now, it’s guilt because I’m not showing them joy through my actions and words. “Mommy guilt” never ceases, but now-a-days it ebbs and flows in more manageable doses.

I often think about her and wonder what kind of advice she would give me today. Would we have grown closer with the birth of my boys…she always wanted Chris and I to start a family. Would my boys enjoy time with their “MeeMaw” on her off-days during the week? Where would she take them, and what would they do? What kind of “little secrets” would they share? I would give anything to see her face light up and hear her contagious laugh at the sight of my two silly boys being who they are – her daughter’s rotten, beautiful offspring.

I wonder if my transition to motherhood might have been softened had she been around to lighten my load? Would I have had more joy in the wake of the births of my two children? Could I have better managed the load of being a full-time mother and wife in those early years? Would my marriage had not seen such depths had she not left this earth so soon? I often ponder these things. And, for the longest time, these questions hardened my heart. I would see so many others around me raising their little ones with the love and support of their own mothers, and I would get jealous, and bitter, and my heart would harden even further.
But, my God had a plan for me – a plan to help me rise above. He wanted me to make this mess a message. I reached a point in my not-so-distant-past when I loathed being angry and resentful for the mom that was taken from me entirely too soon, and from the dream that was ripped from my grips. I overcame the chains of my past, and the victim I’d become as a mother, and turned it into a victory. HE invited me to make those tests my testimony. And, so I did through Christ Renews His Parish at my church. This amazing program gave me the strength a few years ago to begin my journey of healing. Then, this past year I was able to experience another term in this amazing formation process at my church, and this time it touched my soul in ways I never thought possible. HE let me be a witness to his amazing grace and healing. Those tears I saw others pour out for me brought great redemption. Then, shortly after that experience drew to an end, my God blessed me with yet another opportunity (through an amazing employer) to discover the place within my hardened heart where tranquility lies…that peace with HIM that surpasses all understanding.

It’s only been in the recent few months that I’ve finally been able to lay my head down and be at peace with who I am, where I’ve been, and where I’m going. Each day I can be thankful for the life I’ve lived, and even more than that, be thankful that I can be a better version of myself for my boys and my amazing husband tomorrow than I was today. For with tomorrow lies great hope. I have a God in heaven that knows me, and loves me anyway, despite what I did yesterday, or the day before that. And, I have a mom up there with him that wraps her arms around me each night and lets me know “everything is gonna be okay” in a way she was never truly able to do here on earth. I know she’s there…sometimes she even comes for a friendly visit in my dreams. And, when she does, I embrace it.

I’m a wife. I’m a mother. I’m a daughter. I’m truly blessed.  
Jesus is my peace Meditation:

Friday, November 13, 2015

A Birth Story: My “baby” is 10-years-old today!

“Are you sure you don’t want to try the forceps or the vacuum?” Dr. Z asked, after I had spent the better part of the past three hours pushing, grunting and contorting my body into unimaginable positions in an effort to release my first born from my pelvic cavity.  “During my labor I was determined to have that baby vaginally, since I’d spent so many hours pushing,” she continued on to me, re-living her own labor and delivery experience that thankfully ended in success for her. I, however, didn’t feel like that was in the cards for me.

Call it what you will. Mother’s instinct. Guidance from my own mother from above. Whatever it was, I knew this baby needed to come out, and it needed to do so in the very near future. I wasn’t in much pain, because I had received a very effective epidural. However, it was nearing 7:30 in the evening, and I had been laboring since 2:00 that morning. My body was utterly exhausted. But most of all, I could sense that something was wrong.
We opted for the C-section a few moments after Dr. Z's unsuccessful "pep talk". All the family came in and wished me well with lots of hugs and kisses and encouraging words. But, it was my dad’s face that I’ll never forget…I think he might have sensed something as well. He leaned over to kiss my forehead with tears in his eyes and said “I wish your mom was here to help you with this.” I knew he was referring to my grand entrance into the world some 28 years earlier. The similarities in how my mom and I carried our “firsts” were striking. My last few weeks of pregnancy with Connor played out just as my mom’s had when she was carrying me:  a rapid fluid gain towards the end and elevated blood pressure, leading to several weeks of bed rest. And now, the dreadful two words no first-time mother wants to hear: “cesarean section.”

Connor entered this world at 8:31 p.m. on November 13, 2005. But, he wasn’t crying. Why wasn’t he crying? Why wasn't my baby crying. Newborn babies are supposed to cry!

All of the sudden, all hell broke loose right there in the OR. The baby was rushed off out of my view. I looked up at my husband from my flattened position on the operating table and the fear in his eyes is something I will never forget. Then, tears began rolling down his cheeks as he looked beyond me at whatever they were doing with my baby on the table behind me. He just kept squeezing my hand harder and harder...the rest of him frozen in fear at what he was witnessing.

After several minutes, Connor was stabilized and rushed off to the NICU.

I don’t remember much about that night, other than the on-call pediatrician’s arrival at my bedside about 30 minutes later to brief Chris and I about the crucial next 12-18 hours for our new baby. Connor was down in the NICU all by himself with an air dome over his head and wires hooked up to his poor little 7 pound, 14 ounce body. The doctor explained that due to the stress of the labor, our baby had experienced a bowl movement in the womb, and had swallowed it. I read about the possibility of this happening when I was pregnant, but shouldn’t the doctors have noticed this during my nearly three hours of pushing?

Turns out, there were no visible signs during labor, because Connor was lodged so tightly into my birth canal that the meconium never passed out of me and onto the table. No one had reason to suspect anything was wrong.
After the pediatrician left the room that night, Chris and I wept.

It will be such a joyous time for you! That’s all we’d heard from many friends who were new parents- how wonderful of an experience the birth of our child was going to be. And there we were, alone in our hospital room without our new baby. All we knew to do was pray. And, so that’s what we did - we prayed together. We prayed for God to wrap his loving arms around our newborn baby and give him the strength he needs to make a full recovery. We prayed for peace that surpasses all understanding. We prayed for health and well being for our family.

When we were done praying like we'd never prayed before, Chris presented me with a beautiful necklace to commemorate the birth of our new little boy. And, then he promised me everything was going to be okay, even though I knew he was scared to death. That’s the last thing I remember until the next morning. My body, mind and soul were utterly shattered and drained.

Thank goodness for my persistence to endure a c-section, that I later realized was supported by my mother’s voice telling me what to do that night. A devastating outcome could have resulted in the form of oxygen deprivation, or severe lung problems had my baby boy been forced to endure a strenuous vaginal birth with forceps or a vacuum.

That next morning, the air dome was removed from Connor's tiny head before I even made my way to his bedside down the hall. I sat in my wheelchair with anticipation as the nurse untangled the wires he was still connected to and the little oxygen line, and slowly lifted him up and out of the warming bed, and down to his mommy. I wept when he was placed in my arms. He was so beautiful. He nuzzled up to me like he was right at home. And, I knew at that moment he was going to be okay. He came out fighting, and a fighter he remained!
Fast forward to exactly 10 years later. Connor Lee Murray is still quite the fighter – with his little brother, that is! My eldest is smart, and passionate, and believes in God. What more could a mommy want in her 10-year-old son?! I tell him often I’m confident his little soul crossed paths in heaven with his "Meema," as he was born only nine-and-a-half months after her passing. But, he’s not much like her at all…rather, he’s far more a mold of his “Papaw Denver” (Chris’s dad) – a “gear-head”, who “knows it all” (just ask him…he’s got an answer for everything!). Connor has a head made of pure concrete, yet a heart of pure gold. He's a very old soul.

Last weekend, Connor's daddy took him on his first “guys trip.” This getaway was something he started asking for nearly six months ago after watching his favorite Sunday morning program – Fisher’s ATV World, an adventure series on Destination America. He wanted to take a trip on his quad with his daddy for his big upcoming birthday. He also requested the presence of his “Uncle J,” his cousin / best buddy “Chappy,” his PaPaw Larry and “Captain Nick,” all of which are proud ATV owners and his riding buddies.
And, so they all headed down to Pioneer, TN last weekend for an ATV adventure at the Ride Royal Blue Resort located at the base of the Great Smoky Mountains. They stayed in a cabin protected within the resort grounds, experienced mountain side vistas by-quad, as well as waterfalls, lots of mud, and even got to see a few elk in their natural habitat. With more than 600 miles of trails, and 200,000 acres of nature, Connor and “the guys” were in seventh heaven for a few days. Now, that’s what I call one fantastic way to spend a birthday!
Once back from a full day of riding on Saturday, and their Mexican birthday dinner spent “in-town” (complete with whip cream in the face for the “birthday boy,” albeit a week early), Connor called his mommy to tell me all about his day. I listened intently, secretly wishing I had been there to experience every bit of all the unadulterated fun they had partaken in all day long. He sounded completely exhausted, but utterly full of joy. I asked Connor if he had a good day. His response warmed my heart. “Mommy, today was the best day of my whole life!”

Happy birthday, Connor Lee Murray!