Grace, Giving, & Gratitude

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of holiday festivities, semester exams, Christmas decorations, cookie baking, and all of the other day-to-day to do’s. I’ve been hard pressed for time and found most of my blogging time being reallocated to hiding Liam’s elf nightly or spending my little bits of downtime with my nose buried in a book.

With Christmas less than twelve days away, I found my heart and head eager to share my sentiments with others, and so I’m finally putting pen to paper for the first blog post in almost a week.

Grace

Grace is defined as the freely given, unmerited favor, and love of God. Nothing more clearly articulates his love than the gift of his only son to save us from our sins. In the hustle and bustle that comes with preparing for the holiday season, it is easy to get wrapped up in the shopping and gift giving. While these are aspects of the holiday that allow us to connect and show our love for others, we also must find pause in our busy lives to recognize the true reason for the season.

It isn’t always easy to find opportunities to reflect on the miraculous story of Christmas  of how a humble man took a woman’s hand in marriage knowing she was carrying a son that was not his all because an angel affirmed his role in God’s plan. And at the center of this beautiful story, a baby was born on a cold, winter night underneath a blanket of stars with an incredibly full life of fellowship and faith ahead of him. In these last few days leading up to Christmas, let us open our hearts to the infinite beauty and grace of God.

In my daily life, I try to find grace in the simplicity of all God created- a breathtaking sunset, a fragrant rose, or a blanket of fresh snow. Miraculous things can happen when we least expect them to. Awestruck by its beauty, I was amazed to wake up to a backyard full of snow last Friday. To see Liam giddy with excitement about getting to frolic in the snow. Watching my high school students play with childlike abandonment as they waged war against one another in a snowball fight of epic proportions on our quad.

Grace truly is in the little things we often are too busy to notice. These simple gifts of grace and beauty show us God’s love each and every day if we allow ourselves to slow down enough to take it all in.

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Giving

A tenet of Christmas is gift giving. This act of love comes in many forms. Oftentimes we equate gift giving with lavish gifts perfectly wrapped and topped with a bright, red bow.  Sometimes, however, small acts of kindness prove to be just as special and can be far more sincere and touching.

For my coworkers this Christmas, fresh baked cookies, surprise Starbucks lattes, and unexpected kolaches during semester exams brought smiles and joy to many of their faces. For my son, giving my time to hide his elf every night is a small way I’ve brought surprise, wonder, and joy to his mornings. Brightening someone’s day with a sincere smile, an extra large tip, or a genuine hello can move mountains for the people who are on the receiving end of these simple gestures of kindness. Sharing quality time with the special people in our lives is another opportunity to give to the ones we love. This week, we let Liam stay up a little later than normal, so I could push him around in the jogging stroller on one of my evening runs to take in the Christmas lights in our neighborhood. He enjoyed seeing the fun decorations, but more importantly I loved the chance to give him these little moment to relish in.

 

Gratitude

An attitude of gratitude is especially important. Taking stock of the infinite blessings we have, offering thanks, and appreciation for the gifts of family, friends, health, and prosperity.

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I am truly grateful for a loving husband who makes me smile, challenges me to be my best, and makes me laugh in the most unexpected ways. I’m far from the perfect spouse or mother, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to share my life with my Papa Bear and Baby Bears. My sweet boys, you light up my life. I carry your smiles, the sound of your giggles, and the happiness you radiate with me wherever I go. Being a Mama Bear, brings me so much joy. Marriage and motherhood bring with it their own unique set of challenges, but the memories and milestones far outweigh the difficulties.

Christmas is a season of faith, joy, and new beginnings. It’s an opportunity for us to grow in God’s grace, give to those in need, and offer gratitude for the blessings we have in our lives. Wishing each and every one of you a blessed Christmas full of light, love, and holiday joy!

With a Grateful Heart

On Friday, the boys and I drove down to the Valley for a long weekend with my parents. The main purpose of our trip was to participate in the Mega Memorial 5K in Harlingen, a memorial run for a dear friend and former training partner, Meg Jorn. For a woman who dedicated most of her life to distance running, it was a touching tribute to a life tragically cut short. Family, friends, former competitors, and training partners all rallied together for a 5K race in her honor.

Race participants released purple balloons in her honor and her best friend, Dayna, read a beautiful poem and released twenty-six monarch butterflies into the clear blue sky. Moving speeches by both her husband and Dayna brought all of us to tears as we celebrated the incredible life she lived and how she had such a profound impact on her family, friends, and community.

Meg lived a “mega” life. She pushed herself professionally and athletically inspiring so many along the way. Her spirit will live on for years to come, but it does not make her loss any easier to bear. A quote on her Facebook page truly sheds light on the kind of life Meg tackled with gusto and strength, “Life is precious…..let us try not to waste it!”

Meg lived by an exceptional mantra. Life truly is an incredibly precious gift. The threads that make up the tapestry of our lives give us so much to be grateful for. In life, we never know how much time we have with the ones we love. Living each day to the fullest surrounded by the ones we love is such an amazing blessing.

Coming home this weekend allowed me the opportunity to bid adieu to a woman who taught me so much as we shared the road and miles and miles of words of encouragement, laughter, and joy sharing something we both loved- the pursuit of athleticism achieved through training and achieving PR’s. It also reminded me how important the little things truly are. Happiness is seeing your grandparents light up when they see their great-grandsons, catching up with your godmother and clinking glasses as we sip on prosecco, and witnessing the powerful love a big brother shares with his baby brother through a simple kiss and a hug.

My mother made an incredible Thanksgiving spread for us while we were home this weekend. Savory, comforting, and truly delectable, she put all of her love into the preparation and presentation. My mom is my rock, and a woman I derive so much strength and inspiration from. Who I am today is a tribute to the amazing things she has done for me all of my life to help me grow. I am truly grateful for the love, kindness, and grace she encourages me with daily, and I don’t know where I would be without her unconditional love and friendship.

Thanksgiving offers us an opportunity to pause and reflect on the profound blessings God has graced us with. Our health, happiness, family, friends, and all of the other infinitely beautiful blessings we call our own. Wishing you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with delicious food and family and friends around your table. Even after tomorrow, let us remember that we have the opportunity to start each and every day with a grateful heart!

Remembering Granddad

Earlier this week marked the fourth anniversary of my grandfather’s death. For those close to him, he was best remembered for how deeply he loved my grandmother, D’Ann,  how dedicated he was to his work, and his passionate fire for the Texas A&M Aggies.

He was anything but the warm and fuzzy type. He cursed like a sailor and never apologized for his temper. For most of his life, he maintained a strict exercise regimen. Like clockwork, he was up by 5:00 a.m. and out the door for his daily morning walk. Rain or shine, he ventured out; often bragging that he was “airborne.”

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My grandfather smoked like a chimney for most of his life. Most of my childhood memories include him puffing on a cigarette alongside my grandmother. When she became deathly ill with a lung infection though, he quit smoking cold turkey. A habit I can’t imagine was easy to do. There were few things my grandfather wouldn’t do for his beautiful, D’Ann. Married for over 50 years, they shared a love of traveling, tall Cuba Libres, and brown pelicans.

Hard work paved the way for a very successful career. It started first working on the railroads with his father and brother and later traveling further south to pursue a profession in the shrimping industry. My grandmother was anything but pleased about moving away from San Antonio to the quiet town of Port Isabel, but my grandfather soon made her realize the opportunities were plentiful on the coast. The two of them settled into life in South Texas with my father and uncle. Working at the docks meant long days in humid and hot conditions, especially when the season opened and closed or an imminent hurricane was in the Gulf.  His work ethic instilled in me the importance of working hard for the things that matter most in life- your family and career.

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Since my grandfather passed, the fall seems a lot quieter than I remember. He never missed a Texas Aggie football game on television. He’d hoop and holler at the screen cheering on his alma mater with the gusto of a yell leader. If the game turned south, however, he often had very vocal and profane words he’d direct at his beloved team. This usually meant a lot of “G D’s” as I often referred to them when I was younger. Being a member of the Corps of Cadets brought him great pride. He carried the spirit of Aggieland in his heart until the very end.

In reflecting on his life as a son, husband, father, grandfather, friend, and Aggie, I’m grateful for the moments we shared. For him, my accolades as a runner brought him great pride. I loved calling him after a race and sharing my accomplishments with him. How I wish Sean, Liam, and Atticus could have met him! I know he’s smiling down on me from a comfortable chair in Heaven. His feet are propped up and he’s enjoying the view from above!

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The Road to Motherhood

The road to motherhood is not always a linear path. Sometimes a road less travelled leads us towards something our heart could have never expected. My journey started three and a half years ago when I crossed paths with a handsome widower’s online dating profile. I soon found myself falling in love with two incredibly special and unique individuals. One was a strong, motivated father who put his son’s needs ahead of his and opened his heart to the possibilities a relationship with me could bring. The other was a precocious toddler with beautiful eyes as blue as the sky and a smile that melted my heart every time his lips parted in joy. I could have never imagined my role as a mother would first start as a stepmother of a three year old, but I also can’t envision my life being any different because having Liam in my life has been an absolute blessing.

Two years into motherhood, I found out I was pregnant with Atticus. It was a rollercoaster of hormones, bouts of morning sickness, and a waistline that grew a little more every single day. As a little life grew inside of me, my heart swelled with love as I envisioned what this baby would be like when he made his grand entrance later that year. My life forever changed again when my doctor placed a precious 5 pound 15 ounce newborn in my arms for the very first time.

This last year has challenged me as a wife and a mother. It’s inspired me to be more mindful of the little things that make our lives so rich and meaningful. It has been eye opening, raw, real, beautiful, and unscripted. Life as a mother requires patience, a big heart, compassion, and humor. How else do you get through the messy parts of it like spit up, throw up, exploding diapers, and boogers for days?

Armed with all of this, I circle back to how this blog post started describing how the road to motherhood is not always a linear path. November is National Adoption Month, a month that signifies an important month for many children who find love, support, and happiness with their forever families. This is a month that will soon hold a very special place in this Mama Bear’s heart too as we will welcome a daughter into our lives sometime this year. This is a journey that started with a conversation over a year ago and developed into a more serious dialogue between Sean and I about eight months ago. Then this summer we started attending parenting classes and started the mountain of paperwork required to start this journey.

As public as I have been about my chronicles as a Mama Bear. This next step will be incredibly private. Because we are working with an agency contracted through Child Protective Services, until our adoption is consummated, we cannot post anything on social media about the expansion of our family. Our home study will be completed in the next few weeks and then we will cleared to begin considering little girls who would be an ideal fit for our family. I pray for my daughter every single day. I don’t know her yet but I can’t wait to meet her. I pray that her foster parents are meeting her needs daily and are making her feel safe and loved. Her past will undoubtedly require unconditional love, unwavering patience, and unfailing support to help her overcome and thrive. I know it will challenge me in ways I’ve never expected, but it will also only add to the rawness, realness, and beauty of my story as a mother.

The path to motherhood is rarely a perfectly straight line from Point A to Point B. My path thus far has shaped me into the mother I am today. A mother who loves fiercely, gives it her all every single day, and forgives herself when she falls short sometimes. I am far from perfect, but my heart is open and ready for this next chapter as a Mama Bear.

 

A Week of Little Things

This Mama Bear has been M.I.A. for the last week and for no particular reason other than I spent every free moment of my already limited down time reading a page turning thriller I couldn’t put down. One of my favorite perks of being an Amazon Prime member is Kindle books available for download one month before they’re released to the general public. It feels like Christmas every time I see the email message signaling the new releases. It’s a rather difficult task narrowing down the five books available to just one. I lament over every detail and reread the book descriptions several times over before I finally feel informed enough to click on the title I think best suits me. For the most part, I hit the nail on the head almost every time. On the rare occasion, I’ve missed the mark I find myself faced with the option of abandoning a book.

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This months book, The Good Samaritan by John Marrs, was one of my favorites to date. It’s truly not for the faint of heart though as the main character’s sociopathic tendencies make her an absolute force to be reckoned with. If you like psychological thrillers than this book will be right up your alley.

In addition to losing myself in a good book, this week included some easy dinners (I’ll post the recipes later this week) and a bulletin board of positive affirmations that lifted my high school students and colleagues up. “Take what you need” the board stated and around these words a plethora of handwritten affirmations encouraging others to persevere, believe in themselves, and be kind. Students and faculty alike shared these Post It notes with one another; leaving a trail of positivity on lockers, notebooks, and classroom doors around the school.  Atticus received his one year vaccines, a heartbreaking endeavor for this Mama Bear. Four shots and a finger prick later he was all tears, and who could blame him. I’d probably be in tears too after being poked that many times with a sharp object. Our school hosted a blood drive on Thursday, so I donated alongside several of my students. The temperatures finally dropped and with it finally feeling like fall, I wore my new favorite novelty sweater for kicks. Liam spent most evenings after school jumping on the trampoline to his hearts content. He also decided his Halloween skeleton shirt made a great pajama shirt because it glows in the dark. I enjoyed some beautiful moonlit runs after the boys were tucked in for the night. Sean and I rounded out the work week a bottle of my favorite champagne; enjoying the bubbles as we made some vacation plans for the holidays, Spring Break, and the summer.

God continues to bless me in little ways every day. I’m grateful for all of these little things that make my life immensely better because of it. It truly was a week of wonderful blessings!

An Open Letter to my Baby Bear

Sweet Atticus,

It’s hard to believe that a year ago today, the doctor placed your tiny body in my arms. I remember vividly holding you close in those first few moments together and whispering in your ear how much I loved you. My world forever changed that day in ways I could have never imagined. Just thinking about all 5 pounds 15 ounces of you makes my eyes well up with tears. You, Baby Bear, are the greatest thing I’ve ever accomplished, and I will worry about you for the rest of my days on this earth.

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So much happened in your first year of life for both of us. I successfully mastered nursing and still find great joy in being able to spend quality time with you every day rocking you in the rocking chair my own mother once rocked and nursed me in. It truly is amazing how things come full circle! Your little hands and feet have grown and so has your length and weight. You’re now just shy of 20 pounds, and my chiseled arms are from lifting and carrying you around with me all through the house.

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There were nights where I wondered if I’d ever sleep through the night again. You would wake up every two to three hours to nurse, and in a zombie like state I would shuffle through the darkness to comfort. But a year later, I can say with gratitude that you my littlest, sleep through the night and for the most part so do I. I find myself waking from time to time if you cough or stir just to check on you as I peer into the monitor. But most nights, that’s just my mommy worry getting the best of me.

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Blank stares gave way to first smiles and baby coos of happiness. Tummy time, something you absolutely loathed initially, turned into playtime before I knew it. Rolling over, sitting up, pulling up, and now trying to walk came on so quickly. Leaving you alone for even a split second isn’t possible anymore. You’re in to everything and always require an incredibly watchful eye.

Exploding diapers, runny noses, teething, and drooling all made their mark on numerous occasions. Some of these moments were laughable. Others were downright disgusting and smelly. But even still, I wouldn’t trade a single moment of it for a second.

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You bring so much light to my life- watching you crawl with great curiosity across the hardwood floor or pulling up onto your tippy toes to reach for something you need to know more about. Your smile and belly laugh melt my heart in unimaginable ways. I live for those moments to see you so happy in your father’s arms or underneath your brother’s hug.

The Lord blessed me infinitely when he brought you into my life. I look forward to all of the little and big things your future holds. I ask for continued patience, guidance, and love as I make every effort each and every day to be the absolute best Mama Bear for you and your big brother, Liam.

Happy first birthday, my sweet Atticus. “I will love you forever, love you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby bear you’ll be!”

In my Head

As a counselor, I spend a significant amount of energy encouraging others to approach life with optimism. Our heads and hearts benefit from positive thinking that builds us up and allows us to grow. When we allow negative thinking to permeate our thoughts, it clouds our perspective and ultimately brings us down.

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But just like everyone else, I am human too. I think and feel deeply about the things I am most passionate about. When my personal emotions set it, oftentimes rational thinking is the first thing to fall apart at the seams.

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A situation at work today with a parent undoubtedly rattled my chains to the core. Behind closed doors, anger gave way to frustration which quickly gave way to tears. As a counselor, there is nothing I value more than my professional integrity and unconditional positive regard for the students, parents, and colleagues I work with. When someone tries to diminish my character or invalidate my intentions, I find it unsettling, degrading, and hurtful.

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Because this situation occurred at the very end of the day, I composed myself enough to open the door to my office and sneak out of the back entrance.   On my drive home, I hoped loud, upbeat music would allow my negative feelings to subside. In situations like this, however, the counselor in me goes right out the window. I fixate on the negative, let it marinate for far too long, and eventually find myself completely unable to avoid the thoughts in my head.

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Tonight even after my five mile run underneath a blanket of beautiful stars, I still couldn’t shake the negativity I was carrying. Because I still have to confront this issue again tomorrow, it’s highly unlikely the dust will settle overnight. Going against all of the guidance and insight I offer my students, I’m wallowing in negative thinking and letting it get the best of me.

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It’s time to kick this pity party to the curve. This Mama Bear may be down, but she’s not broken. I will do my best to tuck away these negative feelings until tomorrow because quite frankly they’ve taken up enough of my afternoon and evening. Perhaps some meditation over the following quotes will help put things in perspective for me. “Worrying does not take away tomorrow’s trouble, [but] it [certainly took] away today’s peace.” Here’s to a new day, the power of positive thinking, and the silver linings in life that bring radiance and light in those darker moments!