A year ago today, I was having multiple panic attacks a day. I spent the days paralyzed in my bed, unable to function. When I wasn't in my bed, I was lying on the couch, holding back tears, barely able to interact with the kids. I was very close to admitting myself to the mental hospital in town.
I was a depressed, anxious, hopeless, disappointed mess.
This wasn't what my life was supposed to look like.
I wasn't supposed to be a single mom.
I wasn't supposed to have a special needs child that literally used to give me black eyes from smashing his head against my face repeatedly during his frequent, violent meltdowns.
I wasn't supposed to have a chronically sick daughter who had multiple seizures and 106*F fevers for five days every 3 weeks.
I wasn't supposed to be depressed and anxious. I felt like the world's worst mom.
My life was supposed to be happy, with a husband by my side, and a cute house in the northwoods of Wisconsin, where I would homeschool our kids and grow our own food and be involved in the community theater and mom's group.
Enter: two very special friends who persisted despite 6 months of "no, thank you" and "not right now" and "I'm already taking supplements."
I had no idea how much my life would change with that simple, "Yes, I'll give it a try for a few months." I fully expected to take advantage of the 60 day money back guarantee because I didn't expect the supplements to make me feel any better than the ones I was already taking.
I was wrong. Yes, you read that right.
I. Was. Wrong.
Within a very short amount of time, I started feeling changes. Die-off symptoms became my best friend, because it meant things were working! Things were beginning to change inside of me! So many things that I didn't even realize were health problems began to resolve.
For example: I have barely slept in 6 years. I'm a single mom who works from home while caring for 3 kids.... I don't have time to sleep. So, I was waking up every morning ready for bed already.... headaches, exhaustion, fogginess, just miserable. It just seemed normal, because usually when you don't sleep much, you're tired. And most moms just chug coffee to get through, but I can't because coffee affects my body negatively. So, I just accepted the constant exhaustion as normal. But not anymore. Even though I'm not sleeping MORE, I'm sleeping BETTER, and I'm waking up without the feeling of being hit by a truck. I wake up with energy, instead of hitting snooze 4 times before getting up. I wake up in a good mood, instead of mad at the kids for waking me up too early.
It's been a rough year especially, but really a rough 3.5+ years... this opportunity, it truly came at the perfect time for me. I actually told someone the other day that it came when I wasn't looking or knew I needed it. It's forcing me to grow so much more, and I really am loving the changes I'm seeing in myself.
(Photography by me, that's my photography business name)
Photo from unsplash.com
I remember one of the more recent times of feeling like God has forsaken me.
It was in April of 2017. Life seemed to just be getting harder and harder. After almost three years of being a single (divorced) mom, raising a special needs son and two chronically-ill daughters, almost dying during my last pregnancy due to multiple complications, and watching my middle daughter (only 17 months old at the time) have multiple seizures every few weeks because of her illness, I crashed.
It seemed like the more I prayed for things to get better, the more things got worse. I finally ended up having a mental breakdown and almost admitted myself to a psych hospital. While suffering from multiple panic attacks a day, I started slipping into a deep depression and developed an anxiety disorder called Agoraphobia. I also suffer from PTSD - caused by the divorce and many health issues with myself and my kids. I haven’t left my neighborhood in almost a year. Some days it’s hard enough walking my son down to the bus stop before school. I have had to ask for a lot of prayers because sometimes it’s just too hard to pray on my own. Many prayers come out as yelling. “Do You even care?? Are You listening?? I can’t handle anymore! I need a break!”
The feeling of utter hopelessness and abandonment is a hard thing to deal with. The physical pain, the mental anguish, the loneliness… it’s so hard to understand sometimes why God allows us to suffer so much. Why can’t He just let things be easier? Why does it seem like one hit comes after another, with no time to breathe in between? Why isn’t He answering my prayers???
What we need to realize is, God allows suffering for a very important reason. Suffering is a tool of redemption. We HAVE to suffer in order to be redeemed. Suffering is the direct result of sin. It is a test of our obedience. God will give us all of the graces we need to get through our suffering. We just have to trust Him, completely.
“To abandon ourselves completely to the leading of the Holy Spirit while suffering—without doubting, without rejecting God—is one of the greatest Christian virtues. It requires the highest degree of trust in God. The person who has an intimate love relationship with Christ—a strong hold on Him —knows that God’s mercy and help is always greater than difficulties, suffering, and obstacles. Only in that relationship can we endure to the end, like Job.” (http://amazingdiscoveries.org/1358)
Reflect:: When was a time that you felt forsaken? What helped you overcome that feeling?
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash, text by me.
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St Nicholas has always been one of my favorite feast days to celebrate. As a child, there was nothing more exciting than setting our shoes outside of our bedroom door and going to bed, listening for St Nicholas, and then waking up the next morning to our shoes filled with goodies. Stickers, slinkies, yoyos, chocolate coins, sometimes a new movie, sometimes snacks, always candy.
As we got older, we started hanging our stockings on the banister and would come down the stairs in the morning to find our favorite snacks bulging out. Goldfish, chocolate, and hot cocoa can always be counted on. Even though most of my siblings are teenagers or young adults now, two of us with our own kids and one away at college, my mom still fills our stockings and we get our goodies when we come over to visit.
We also always have a hot cocoa bar with candy canes, marshmallows, whipped cream, cinnamon, cocoa packets in each of our stockings, and special mugs reserved only for St Nicholas and Christmas.
For many years, we also received a gingerbread house decorating kit, which we always loved. I love how now there are kits with multiple little houses because it's so much nicer for each child to have their own instead of fighting over the main one. I don't have a fireplace mantel right now because we have a woodstove, but eventually I'd love to have a place to display the kids' houses instead of leaving them on the kitchen table to get destroyed right away.
Now that I have my own kids, I love this feast day even more. It's so much fun celebrating with them. They're young enough to get excited by the magic and mystery of falling asleep wondering what they'll get and waking up to a shoe or stocking full of goodies. We put a lot of emphasis on St Nicholas and his feast day because we don't do Santa Claus for Christmas. The kids know he is just a character just like Daniel Tiger or Peppa Pig (two of their current obsessions), but that some people still celebrate him on Christmas.
Below are some of the ways we celebrate the day, and some gift ideas that can be purchased on Amazon (yay 2 day delivery!) or Etsy (supporting small businesses, for the win!).
Movies and books about St Nicholas:
The Baker's Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale, with Bonus Cookie Recipe for St. Nicholas Christmas Cookies - We love reading this book and baking St Nicholas cookies. We even have a St Nicholas bishop-shaped cookie cutter!
The Miracle of St Nicholas - This book is really great and the artwork is beautiful. I actually need to buy it again because I don't know where mine is.
Nicholas: The Boy Who Became Santa - We've been watching this movie on December 6 for as long as I can remember. The CCC saint movies are really great, and we actually own the entire collection.
Veggie Tales: Saint Nicholas - My kids love Veggie Tales, and we end up watching this movie multiple times over Advent. The songs are super catchy, fair warning!
Religious Gift Ideas/Stocking Stuffers:
Fisher Price Little People Nativity Scene - This is a favorite in our house. Every night before St Nicholas comes, I set out the kids' nativity scenes. They each have their own, and this one is my youngest's. It's super durable and has lasted us three years so far, while still looking brand new.
St Nicholas Shining Light doll - These are apparently sold out on their website, but they are in stock on Amazon! We received this four years ago and he is still well-loved. I'm hoping to add to our collection this year since they've added so many new saints!
Chews Life Silicone Rosaries - You guys, these are available on Amazon! These food-grade silicone rosaries are great for teething babies, young children, and also kids with sensory processing difficulties. They also have silicone bracelets with gorgeous saint medals (also silicone), and a variety of products for moms too.
Super Saints Quizzing Cards - The illustrations on these cards are so cute! They're great for older kids, but younger kids will enjoy them as well.
Catholic Female Saint Stickers - Aren't these pretty? What child doesn't love stickers??
Marek Made Minimalist Saint Dolls - These dolls are absolutely stunning, and I am so excited to receive our first one this year for my youngest daughter's Christmas gift.
The Little Rose Shop Saint Dolls - For a different style saint doll, these are super cute. She also has regular dolls and animals, and has made characters like Moana!
MarziPantz Dolls and more - Because you can never have too many dolls, I definitely recommend the character dolls from this shop. Eventually I'll own all of the Wizard of Oz dolls for my kids, who are obsessed with the story right now.
Emmaus Road Peg Dolls - I am obsessed with Kristina's work. Her pegs are so cute, and she is constantly adding new designs to the shop. She doesn't only make saints, either. The shop closes in about a week though, so hurry up and get your order in.
Almond Rod Toys - These wood toys are simply stunning. They even have wooden Mass kits.
Naturally Catholic - Another gorgeous wood toy shop. Their style is so beautiful!
I'll add more as I have time! How does your family celebrate the feast of St Nicholas?
Our guardian angels are truly amazing. Every night before bed, my kids and I try to pray the Angel of God prayer for protection and a good night’s sleep. I’m convinced it is the reason they have never been seriously injured. There have been so many occasions where I have almost seen my children’s guardian angels pulling them back up when about to fall down a stair, pushing them away from the corner of the table, making me feel like a ninja when my hand suddenly flies out and catches someone mid-fall. I’m a total klutz, and my kids obviously inherited that lovely gene as well.
To read more, click here.
Photo credit: pexels.com
Morning Routines: Hopes vs Reality
If you're anything like me, you know that mornings just aren't meant for, well, being awake. I mean, you have the whole day to be awake... so what's the point in waking up in the morning? Why not around 10 am instead? I think I could function much better if the day didn't have to start until 10 am.
Unfortunately (or not, depending on how you look at it, because life is truly a blessing), there are too many responsibilities to tend to before 10 am. I have to get my kids up and dressed for the day, make and serve breakfast, take a 5 minute shower, brush everyone's teeth and hair, pack lunch and snacks for school, make sure nothing is missing from the backpack, get myself looking somewhat presentable, walk down to the bus stop, walk back home, make myself breakfast, get the girls a snack, eat my breakfast - and that is all by 8:30 am.
Notice that I didn't mention prayer time, or journaling, or reading the bible at all. THAT is the flaw in my morning routine.
Ideally, I'd wake up an hour before the kids so that I could make myself a cup of coffee, take a relaxing shower, sit down with whatever journal I'm working through (right now it's Consider the Lilies) and a bible, and just spend time reading and doodling and praying. Then after I've had time to pray and read in quiet, I'd wake the kids up and begin my usual routine.
Unfortunately, I just haven't found a way to make that a possibility yet. For one, every time I set an alarm for an hour earlier than their usual wakeup time (or ANY amount of time before their normal wakeup time), they sense it and wake up even earlier than the alarm. Another problem is that I work late into the night because I can't get enough done during the day, and at least one child wakes up at least once a night, so I'm already not sleeping enough. And, I can't drink caffeine because it affects my anxiety, so I can't just run on 4 hours of sleep and a pot of coffee anymore. I used to... before this year, that's what I did. Apparently my body had enough though, because I can't even drink 1/2 decaf, 1/2 regular without feeling shaky and anxious anymore. I do drink 100% decaf on occasion for the taste, but it does nothing for energy.
So, I'm still trying to figure out how to make time in the morning for praying and journaling, while still getting everything else done. I could probably carve some time out in the afternoon, but I'd really love to start the day with prayer and journaling. Especially in the Fall, when the weather is gorgeous outside and I can grab a blanket and hot drink and sit in a quiet corner of the yard, I really want to start the day outside praying and reading.
Below I'll post links for some of my favorite products for prayer and bible journaling. I started earlier this year during Blessed Is She's Lenten journal, and I fell in love immediately.
What does your morning routine look like? How do you make time to start your day with prayer?
Prayer/Bible Journaling Supplies
Consider the Lilies- Amazing bible study journal by Elizabeth Foss, Mary Lenaburg, Colleen Mitchell, and several other incredible writers. (btw, Take Up And Read is coming out with a new study in September!)
Heart of Mary Women's Fellowship Archived studies - These are free online bible studies on a large variety of topics. I'll be one of the writers for this year's Advent study. They have daily studies as well, but this is the link for the archived studies. We're currently finishing up this month's study on the Cardinal Virtues, and in September we'll be studying Angels.
Catholic Study Bible - This was recommended on another blog for bible journaling, because you can paint over the sections of notes if you'd like. I really love this bible because it is hardbound (you can also get paperback if you prefer). There are prettier bibles that you can get specifically for bible journaling, but this one is a good price and does the job.
I'll add the links for these in a little bit, but I have a Catholic bullet journal from a friend on Etsy, and gorgeous notebook from another friend on Etsy that I use as well. The names are slipping my mind at the moment, but once I get their sites, I'll link them.
Tombow Dual Brush Pens - These are my favorite for doodling, highlighting, drawing, practicing hand-lettering, etc. I always use these in my journals and bibles. I have this set and a second with different shades .
Fine Tip Micro Line Pens - These are great for note-taking, especially in the margins of my bible. I have several different kinds, because I love colorful pens so much.
Washi Tape - I only recently started using washi tape but it is so fun! I love decorating the pages with it, especially marking corners for pages that I want to come back to. There are so many different kinds of washi tape, but this one is thin and nice to use in books. I use thicker washi tape for packaging my orders.
Koi Watercolors - I love painting in my journals and in the bible. I don't know why, but painting has always been relaxing for me. It does wrinkle the pages a little bit, but I don't mind.
Water Brushes - I prefer water brushes to regular paint brushes, especially for watercolors.
I’ve been doing a Temperance challenge this summer via Facebook with a wonderful group of encouraging women, and what I’ve learned is that I struggle more with frivolous spending than anything else. As a single mom I don’t really have a ton of extra money to spend to begin with, but I’ve noticed that I go through periods of no spending, and then justifying extra spending by saying that I rarely buy stuff for myself. That part is true – I don’t often spend money on myself, but when I do… I spend a lot. Now, I don’t spend hundreds of dollars, but even an extra $20 that isn’t in the budget can be considered a lot. This month has been hard because since today is my birthday (the day you are reading/hearing this, not the day I am writing this), I’ve been telling myself it’s ok to spend some extra money because it’s a birthday gift to myself. I’ve told myself that three times this month so far. That is not practicing Temperance.
To read more, click here.
As a single mother who suffers from anxiety and depression, this verse from Joshua is pretty much the exact opposite of how I feel some days. However, I do know that despite how I feel, I am in fact being strong and courageous every single day that I continue to fight for my life and be the mom that my kids need me to be, no matter how badly I want to hide under a rock eating chocolate and drinking wine. I know that God has a plan for my life that involves more than simply staying at home, avoiding situations that require me to be brave.
To read more, click here.
Prudence means exercising good judgment or common sense. It means knowing the right thing to do. It means not saying everything that comes to mind. In this age of technology, it is so common to vent on social media, or engage in arguments, or hide behind the keyboard and say things that normally wouldn’t be said in face-to- face conversation, or to gossip about others.
Fr. Mike Schmitz of Ascension Press cautions against this and calls it “everyday betrayal.” Sometimes we need to process things and talk about it with someone, and this is where prudence comes in. Prudence helps to only “talk to the right people about the right thing to accomplish the right end.” It requires discretion – not bringing anyone else and his or her flaws or problems into what you need help with.
To read more, click here.
When I was engaged at 21 years old, I had no idea what NFP was. In our diocese we were required to take an NFP class as part of our marriage prep, and I decided to order a home study course because I was too embarrassed at the idea of talking about it with strangers. I started charting and reading everything I could about it.
We were married in the middle of July and by the end of August, I was expecting our first child. He was completely unplanned... during our two weeks of travel for our honeymoon, I had misplaced my chart and miscalculated peek day. I had just started my last year of college, but had to drop out because of the severe nausea I experienced.
To my dismay, my cycle came back 5 weeks postpartum. I had some complications with the pregnancy and delivery, and despite pumping for 7 weeks, my milk never came in. I was only pumping an ounce a day. I was committed to using NFP to avoid pregnancy because a) I had a c-section, b) my husband was in the Army and there was a chance we'd be moving within the next few months, c) I developed postpartum depression.
No one had ever talked to me about postpartum depression before. I didn't know that it was even a thing. Between a husband who always worked and a baby who never slept or stopped crying, I turned into a complete mess. Not knowing what it was, I just assumed I was just beyond exhausted and I'd get over it. I never talked to anyone about it except my husband, who responded by hanging out with his friends more to avoid my screaming and crying. I can't totally blame him.... I would spend the day laying in bed with our son, just crying, begging God to make him sleep because I was just so tired. I started having dark thoughts that scared me, but I had no one to talk to. I didn't know there was medication I could take, or supplements that would help.
Because my husband worked so much (frequently in the field for weeks at a time, or in other states training for a couple of months), our son and I spent quite a bit of time at my parents' house. I would pack a few bags and spend a few weeks a time at their house, only seeing my husband one week a month, if that. When he finally got on a schedule where he worked on post close to our house, he mostly worked nights - roughly 4 pm til 7 am. We barely saw each other.
I remember one night that we were finally home together after several weeks apart. Our son was 11 months old. I felt some cramping that usually indicated ovulation, but I wasn't due to ovulate for a week. I had been on a very specific schedule for as long as I had remembered. Three and a half weeks, almost to the day. That's how long my cycles were. I decided to ignore the cramping, because we only had a couple of days together before we'd be apart again for a few weeks.
Our middle daughter was born 9 months later.
By that time, we had moved 1000 miles across the country (read: away from my family), my husband had gotten out of the Army (officially: the day before we left the hospital with our new daughter, which meant insurance didn't cover that last day. We had to pay $5000 for that ONE day), his mother/my mother-in-law had passed away from brain tumors just three weeks prior.
Things were really rough, and we started fighting a lot. NFP was always a huge problem in our marriage because he didn't believe it worked. To him, it kept failing us because I kept getting pregnant. To me, I KNEW it worked BECAUSE I kept getting pregnant and knew exactly when it happened, even though both times were an accident. He would rather abstain for the rest of our marriage than trust NFP to work. He started withholding any signs of affection, even saying "I love you." He'd purposely get up earlier than me and leave the room so that he wouldn't have to talk to me in the morning.... leaving me in bed, recovering from a c-section, with my newborn and 20 month old son.
After a crying fight one night, things got a bit better for awhile. My cycle returned at 5 weeks postpartum again, but this time the depression didn't. We were happy for the first time in awhile, or so I thought.
Several months later, things got rough again, and my husband asked for a separation. I was four days into a novena to Our Lady Undoer of Knots to save our marriage. He had no idea I was praying it... he just knew that he was no longer happy and wanted a break. Ultimately I agreed to take the kids and move back in with my family, but in the meantime I had hopes that he would change his mind. We spent the month before I left enjoying each other's company, if you know what I mean. I thought maybe it would save our marriage. However, despite warning a week before ovulation was due that we should be careful, we weren't that one day.... and I ended up pregnant.
I denied it at first.... I thought my cycle was late due to the stress I was undergoing. With my first two pregnancies, I tested positive almost a week early. I just KNEW I was pregnant both times. This time, I KNEW I couldn't be... because why would God do that to me?
Two days before my family picked up the kids and I and drove 1000 miles back across the country in a completely full minivan with our belongings crammed into every possible corner, I tested positive. I couldn't believe it. I mean, I could.... I was just in denial. Our son had just turned two a few months prior, and our middle child was only six months old. I was about to become a single mother of three kids under three.
Fast forward an incredibly difficult three years, and here I am, writing a blog post about NFP.
I can't really say that I wish I had known more about NFP to begin with, because then I might not have the kids that I have, and I love them to death. As difficult as life has been these last six years (but especially the last three years), I can't imagine life without them.
Since I've been single for three years, I've been studying more about NFP, tracking my cycle (not doing anything fancy, just marking certain days and for sure my period on my iPhone and MAC calendars), and just preparing myself for the future in case I ever remarry. I don't know if it's in God's plan to ever have more children, but it is incredibly heartbreaking to hear my son ask why I don't have a baby in my belly, and tell me that he really wants a brother.
We've had our fair share of difficulties.... my car died six weeks after my first child was born, and I wasn't able to get a new one until three years later, after I had been living with my family for 7 months. We had to wean our son from formula almost a month early because we couldn't afford to buy even one more generic can (ps: don't join the military strictly for the money... they don't actually pay that well.) Everything we wear is a hand-me-down, from Goodwill, or from the clearance rack at Walmart. Some weeks we have lived on generic mac n cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or bowls of cereal with watered-down milk. I have had to ask for help from complete strangers on multiple occasions, and I got a credit card for groceries and toiletries for when things are particularly tough (thank God for Amazon prime and grocery delivery).
But we have also been blessed in more ways than I can count. Between a friend's fundraiser and a gofundme page, my van was entirely paid off. My uncles gave me a tv and dvd player for Christmas a few years ago. Friends from church have given us furniture, clothing, toys for the kids, delivered meals. We've had people come clean the house a few times, visit me at the hospital during various stays for myself or my kids. My business has grown beyond my dreams, and my customers and followers have been so incredibly generous and understanding during periods of difficulty.
My kids are happy, healthy, and thriving.
That's all that matters.
I am not a gentle person. I try so hard to be…. I study books and blogs on gentle parenting. I try to be calm and patient with everyone. I try to let go of my own ideas of how my life should be and just follow along with God’s plan, but I am truly awful at all of those things. I frequently complain and question why God allows certain things to happen. I try to take charge and then get frustrated when things don’t go according to plan.
To read more, click here.
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28 year old Catholic divorced mom to three kiddos with special needs and/or chronic illnesses. I am the owner of My Little Felt Friends on Etsy, and also write and take pictures for Heart of Mary Women's Fellowship. I love mugs, blankets, hoodies, and books. Oh, and art supplies. And coffee. And teen dramas on Netflix.
For these and other items, please visit my Etsy shop. If you don't see what you are looking for, feel free to send me a message and I'll see what I can do. I love custom orders, and can even create bookish and tv characters.
I cannot say enough good things about Audible. My nonverbal son has improved so much because of two things: speech therapy at school, and audiobooks from Audible. Two years ago he barely had 5 words, and now he corrects my vocabulary daily. The kids listen to audiobooks throughout the day and every night to fall asleep, and I love listening while I work. I highly recommend signing up and seeing how it changes your family. To start your free trial of Audible, click here.