Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Eyes on the Good Shepherd

Father's homily was very good on Sunday. He talked about how we can allow too many distractions into our lives. These distractions are placed there by evil because it wants to take our focus off of Jesus. Once we take our focus off of Jesus, it is easier for us to care more about worldly things than we do about what matters most, who we are in Jesus. When we take our eyes off of the Good Shepherd, we risk being consumed by the wolf. 

As I pondered Father's words, it occurred to me how often people are quick to dismiss the internet. They call it a distraction. Surely, it can be one with so many blogs, videos, social sites, and stores. It is easy to waste time click, click, clicking to another related link. If you contribute to social sites or blogs, people may try to dissuade you from contributing, insisting there are better uses of your time.

In some cases, this advice is true, but it is not always true.

There are a lot of wonderful, faith-filled, intelligent people in the world. Unfortunately, we may not live close to any or we may be in a season of life that makes it hard to find and reach out to the people in our community. Finding friendship, fellowship, mentors online is a saving grace when we are tired or lonely or frustrated.

We need to swap stories with someone, but not just anybody. We need to connect with women who get it, who understand us, who offer advice and prayer. Someone who can direct our eyes away from distractions and back to the One that truly matters. Jesus.

I am very thankful for this community of Catholic women bloggers. They are friendly, welcoming, and supportive. Their words, their openness to share their faith, with all the joys and struggles, are changing people. Their stories are teaching others about God's love, grace, and mercy. Seeing glimpses of their daily lives and reading about their triumphs and struggles help other women when they are feeling lost and alone. Their testimonies are bringing people to Jesus.

In March, the first group of Catholic women bloggers got together to talk and learn and support each other. This past weekend, the second group connected. This upcoming Saturday I will be part of another gathering. There are other meet-ups that will take place across the country at later dates.

Please keep us in your prayers. The wolf is out there, and he wants us to stop proclaiming how wonderful God is, how merciful and loving is the Lord. Pray that we keep our eyes towards the Shepherd always. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Blog Stuff, Giveaways, Running, and a Conference! {SQT}

It's Friday! This morning I spent some much needed time with my sister-in-law and four of her ten children, and a dear friend of ours. We had coffee, donuts, danish, and lots of great conversation. I meant to have my quick takes up before they arrived, but I was very slow moving this morning. So here I am writing them in the afternoon instead of running like I should be (more about running below)! 

On to the takes! 

1. Many weeks ago I won a blog consultation with Bonnie. She is so smart and gives great advice. She is to the point and very kind. 

2. I am still in the process of making changes, following many of her suggestions. I rewrote my About page and updated most of the tabs. I changed my social media buttons and added a blogroll to my sidebar. And I changed my header. It is not exactly what I want, but it works for now. 

3. I had such a great experience with Bonnie that I decided I would give a consultation away as part of my new series of giveaways. I plan on giving away the consultation in June. 

4. The first giveaway in the series is live. I am giving away two bars of all natural soap and two hand knit wash cloths. It will close on Sunday night so if you want to enter you better do it asap! 

5. The next item that I will giveaway in the series is the journal from Blessed is She. I have wanted one for a while, so finally, I bought two. One for myself and one for a lucky winner! Look for that giveaway in the next several weeks! 

6. A quick update on #4 from my list of things that I want to do before I turn 40. I am training for a half marathon. I am not signed up to run in a race. It is more of a personal goal. I am using this training schedule, and I am enjoying it. A friend of mine is training too, and we plan on running 13.1 miles together around town. I like setting goals and working towards them. It is great for my self-esteem

7.  I am attending a Catholic women's blogging conference next Saturday. I am very excited! I am going to spend the day with so many great ladies, such as Julie, Rita, Rosie, Cristina, Mary, Abigail, and Abbey (just to name a few). There will be many more lovely ladies there, as well. I promise to write a recap, so look for that in the coming weeks! 

Have a wonderful weekend! 

Linking up with Kelly for Seven Quick Takes

Monday, April 20, 2015

From Me to You {Giveaway Series}

A couple months ago I won three giveaways in ten days! I can not tell you how shocked and happy I was to win and winning the giveaways gave me an idea. My birthday was coming up, and I thought it would be a lot of fun to offer a giveaway to celebrate my birthday with all of you. But life kept me busy, my birthday came and went, and I never got to do the giveaway. 

Boy, am I happy it happened that way because one giveaway has now turned into a series. Over the next few months, I will be giving away items that I love and enjoy using, or that have made my life easier, or that I have handmade. 

Now on to the first giveaway in the series! 

I originally found Lisa's blog years ago because we were both participating in a weekly knitting link-up at another blog. I enjoyed seeing her beautifully knit items and reading little updates about her family. It wasn't until this year though that I purchased her handmade soap from her shop, Happy In Dole Valley. I have sensitive skin, and her soap is very soothing to my dry, itchy skin. I liked it so much that I bought a couple extra bars to give away!

I am giving away two bars of Lisa's all natural Oats and Honey soap. Lisa uses quality ingredients such as sweet almond oil, raw honey, and organic oats in her all natural soaps. Her soaps are free of artificial colors, fragrances, and additives. I am also giving away two hand knit washcloths that I knit especially for this giveaway. I knit them with Nature's Choice Organic Cotton yarn from Lion Brand in a broken rib pattern. They are extra soft.

When Lisa found out I was giving away her soap, she was kind enough to offer a discount to my readers. Make a purchase at Happy In Dole Valley from now through the end of May and receive 10% off your purchase.
Use the discount code ThankYouErica to get your discount!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
This giveaway is for US residents only, please. Thank you! This giveaway is open through Sunday, April 26, 2015. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

More Etsy Love {Five Favorites}

Hi! Family commitments have kept me busy. There are so many things I want to say, but no time to write them all down. 

Back in February, I wrote about some of my favorite Etsy purchases. I have a few minutes today, so I will share a few (or five) more of the new, fun items that I have recently gotten from Etsy shops. 

1. I recently purchased these reusable sandwich and snack bags from Hustle Mama. I think they are great! The are are made of nylon that is moisture resistant and food safe. They can be washed with hot soapy water or in the washer and dryer. 

2. I just love this fabric wallet that I got from The Blue Bobbin. It is well made, and the colors make me happy. 

3. This bag from the Barefoot Bag Shop is the perfect purse for spring. It is a nice size for me as it fits all my necessities, plus a book or a small knitting project. I have my eye on another bag in a lovely black, gray, and yellow bird print. 

4. I wrote about this yarn before in a Yarn Along post, but I had to mention it again because I am waiting for the arrival of another lovely yarn from Ewe Fluffy Ewe. I visited the shop earlier today and saw a lovely lace weight yarn in the Mr. Rochester colorway. I had to purchase it! I better finish the scarf in the above picture so I can start knitting with Mr. Rochester as soon as I get it!  

5. I mentioned the Happy In Dole Valley shop before, but I have to mention it again because this Lavender spray smells wonderful! I just love it! The scent gives me a calm and happy feeling. 

Come back next week when I will be offering a coupon code that is 10% off of a purchase and a giveaway that includes handcrafted natural soap from Happy In Dole Valley! 

Linking up with Jenna at Call Her Happy

Monday, April 6, 2015

Out of Darkness

When I was little, I used to hide. I would find the darkest places in my grandparents' home, crawl inside, and stay there. One of my favorite places, when I was very little, were side tables that my grandmother had in the living room. They were of ornate, dark wood. They had swinging doors. I would climb in one, close the door, and just sit inside. 

Once I outgrew the side tables, I hid in the center part of two connecting closets. My grandparents' closets connected but had separate entrances (I guess you could call it a Jack and Jill closet). My grandfather's closet was in the family room, and my grandmother's closet was in their bedroom, and they connected in the middle. I would enter into one door (usually my grandfather's) and crawl to the center where it was dark and empty.

When I was eleven, I was given the basement bedroom. It did not have windows, so when the door closed it was pitch black. It became my sanctuary, my safe place in my home. I spent hours in my basement room, lights off, radio on, just alone with my thoughts, waiting to be old enough to move out of the house.

But what is in the darkness. Evil? Nothing good.The light is where life begins. I don't hide in darkness anymore. I long for the light.

God called me out of the darkness. Once I was ready to shed the pain and insecurities of my youth, there was more room inside me for God to enter and transform me. He placed people in my life that helped me along the way, people that shined with Christ's light. 

I am not a perfect lamp for Christ's light. Some days I burn bright and other days my lamp is dim, but I continue to seek Him and His ways and pray for grace and mercy. It is only through His presence in me that I can encourage and love others as I should, to be a light in their life. 

Has Christ brought you out of darkness? How is He shining through you to bring hope and love to the people around you? 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Peace With the Cross

I wrote this several days ago and decided not to share it in this space. Our (as in the Catholic community) fertility is such a hot topic, with assumptions made and feelings hurt. I wasn't sure if this was something that I wanted to share here. I talked to my friend about it, and she encouraged me to share it. I had allowed my heart to grow hard in this area, and I longed for some sense of control where there is none. But control is not really what I want. I want to be close to God, and that requires an abandonment of will that I fight daily. It is a struggle for all of us on the journey to sanctity, I think. We want to follow Christ, but we want to dictate the way the path takes us sometimes. That is why I decided to share this post after all. These words describe my thoughts and feelings, but maybe they describe you a little bit, too. 

I had been feeling restless. The other night, I couldn't sleep. The house was quiet, and all I could think about was how the next ten years of my life were going to take me from being the mom of younger kids to the mom of adult children. The thought made me sad and excited at the same time. In my head, I battled with thoughts of wanting to slow down time, to keep these boys smallish, and to continue to hope for one more baby. But I also thought of speeding up time, feeling sure that our family is complete, and making decisions about what I am going to be doing with the rest of my life. You know, I won't be quite 50, I will need some employment. The idea of doing something other than homeschooling and housework sounded fun.

I decided that I was finished with the roller-coaster of fertility. I had spent enough time on it, and it would be okay to hop off of the ride a little early. I needed to be done, to move on. It would be okay because I had suffered long enough. Deciding to switch from trying to conceive to trying not to conceive seemed like a great idea at the time. It made me feel like I had some control over my fertility. After all combining charting to avoid conception with my age and low fertility meant that I would be sure not to conceive. Finally, I looked to the future and felt that I could be certain of something. My life would move forward, and there would be no babies (real or hoped for) in it! My struggles with infertility and women's health issues had left me weak and weary, and I wanted no more of any of it.

As I entered into Holy Week, I was focused on the cross, my cross. I thought only of my suffering. I wanted it taken from me.

Then I read this quote from Fulton J. Sheen in my Lenten devotional,

Even those who have some degree of sanctity find it hard, sometimes, to remain on the cross until the end; the world is full of half-crucified souls who have come down from the cross at the challenge of the world after an hour, or two hours, or even after two hours and fifty-nine minutes. Few are like the Savior, who will stay until the end that they, like him, might utter the cry of triumph: "It is finished." 

I sat there, frozen, unable to move. Do I want to be a half-crucified soul? Is that why Jesus took up His cross so that I in my weakness, could drop mine? He humbled himself and obediently suffered death on a cross (Philippians 6:8) so that I could have salvation. That is how great the Lord's love is. He transformed the cruel death of the cross into victory when He rose again, giving the gift of new life.

How very selfish and unworthy I am of His love. And yet He does love me. It is the love, redemptive love, which I had lost sight of in the suffering. 

I have written about the cross of infertility before. There are days, weeks, and sometimes months when it is easier to carry than other times. But it is never easy. It is always a struggle. I have never embraced it, never been thankful for it. 

I read about St. John Vianney recently, and in it there was a beautiful quote about the cross. I don't remember the exact quote, but the idea was that we are miserable because we don't love the cross. If we loved the cross, our hearts would have peace. 

Love the cross and have peace. I need peace. 

I don't know what the future holds for my family size, but I do know the cross of subpar fertility and miscarriage will be taken from me soon enough. I am not sure how my final years of fertility will play out, but I know I will continue to discuss it with Chris. We will continue to seek God's will and pray for peace in this area of our life. 

I want to meet the end with a triumphant cry. I know that I can continue to carry my cross because I will be clinging to Jesus the entire way. I will focus on love and hopefully find peace. 

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