Thursday, March 30, 2017
There's an old saying. It goes like this,"The same boiling water that softens the potato hardens the egg. It's about what you're made of not the circumstances." And this is how I've chosen to think of my relationship with my old friend, Struggle and her sister Difficulty. When it comes to these two, the best way of thinking is something along the lines of Thelma A.Myer's quote,"Blessed are the flexible I always say. they shall never be bent out of shape." She has definitely got that one down correctly. Being flexible in any situation or circumstances Struggle and Difficulty throw your way is sound advice if I can say so myself. I mean I understand very well the difficulties life offers us. I don't have to explain this to many folks. My life has been full of those little, "Let me stir the pot for you sweetie" moments. From being diagnosed at age 8 with type 1 diabetes, to pre-term labor, a stroke, breast cancer, a child with a TBI and another on the spectrum and everything else under the sun, I have learned to simply go through whatever comes my way. Trying too hard to avoid the darkness, the pain or the hardships many times only leads to more of them. Believe me I know, Struggle has relentlessly decided to turn the flames up any time she's had the chance. My life has been a constant tug of war between me and the Chaos sisters, Struggle and Difficulty. It's really about how you play the game though. Do you give up or press on?
I've learned personally many times over, even when I'm not happy about it,"God is not going to deliver me from every difficulty. He is not going to keep me from every challenge. If He did, I would never grow. The scripture says, "Our faith is tried in the fire of affliction." When I'm in a tough time, that's the opportunity to show God what I'm made of." Life, it's hard there is no arguing that but it's also beautiful and worth every struggle we face. The truth is even if we can't understand that in the short- term the fire within us won't die out in the long-term unless we allow it to. We can be strong, and yet soft, weak in the moment and yet fierce and mighty in battle without ever being defeated in spite of our failures. Seriously, as so well said by Mama Indigo,"The best thing you could do is MASTER the chaos in you. You are not thrown into the fire. YOU ARE THE FIRE." How many times, when our old friend, Struggle shows up do we remind ourselves, we are the fire? I know for myself, I'm made of more than one tiny spark and that fire, the one burning inside of me, through me , the one that is me has been stoked and tended to by my Father's hands. Struggle, well she's just a well-meaning old friend who occasionally fuels the fire. The thing about our old friend is she likes a good fight, an occasional scuffle or conflict. She may even put her foot out just as we're crossing the finish line causing us to trip. The reality is without her I know for myself, I wouldn't understand the light within me is brighter than any darkness she could ever muster up. I guess I see things the way Winston Churchill did, you gotta keep going, pushing through, going through it, not around it. The truth about Struggle and her sister Difficulty is they are both key components in our growth. We can resent them, resist them, become hard and callous or we can simply go through it just as this life lesson is titled.
Life isn't easy, we can all agree on that for sure and I think that's a constant resounding theme for most of us actually. It doesn't really matter who you are, where you're from or even what you're struggling with for that matter. Each time we face Difficulty and Struggle, we become deeper, stronger people. What I've learned in my relationship with the Chaos sisters is this,"Rock bottom has built more heroes than privilege." We are equal when it comes to grief. It takes time to go through the woods, it takes time to work through hurt and suffering and it takes time to heal from a broken heart and injured spirit. Eventually though, most of us make it out of the woods. From 'A Woman of Faith' and out of 1 Samuel 22:30 I stand myself on these words,"May my heart be kind, my mind fierce and my spirit brave." And this is where I leave you today, at the end of Life Lesson #138 ~ Go Through It... one side and out the other. We keep going and we come out changed for the most part, better, a little tattered and bruised but richer and passionate nonetheless
After all, "The best way out is always through."
Tuesday, March 28, 2017
So many times through the years I've been asked where my strength comes from. Honestly at moments I have questioned this myself. From my childhood illness, to pre-term labor, breast cancer, auto-immune diseases and so on and so on I have never been alone. God has time and time again strengthened me through the unconditional love, honesty and steadfastness of the women He's planted in my life. At any point during any difficulty or uncertainty in my life, you will find a strong woman standing beside me. Personally, for me to be a strong woman means understanding your strength is a gift. A God given gift, one forged in the heavens and given to you in the form of those true friendships and the family who will hold your tired arms up just like Moses' by Aaron and Hur in Exodus. You see the truth is, "Behind every successful woman is a tribe of other successful women who have her back." And that doesn't mean riches, big houses or titles either. No it encompasses more than that. Success isn't only measured in material things, success is found in the friendships, unconditional love, loyalty, strength and the grace you're surrounded by in spite of your present circumstances.
The strength I carry, I don't carry alone for it is not my own. It's the blending together of the determination and love of these very women in my life...strong, beautiful fighters. When I look at these women I understand where their strength comes from, and why I am made strong simply by knowing them. For some it may take a lifetime, and for others just a mile or two but as a woman of strength we get it, "Not everyone believes in her and not everyone supports her, but her God goes with her and that's what sustains her." (Morgan Harper-Nichols) And in bringing these amazing women, each with different flaws and abilities, characteristics, personalities and strengths into my life, He makes me strong. These are the kind of women who have a quiet and indescribable strength inside of them. They're beautiful, gracious, strong and loyal and having been refined by the fire they are warriors in their own right. These women of strength offer support and encouragement because they themselves understand, "No amount of physical beauty will ever be as valuable as a beautiful heart."
Coming from a long line of strong women I now understand God's strength, His grace and unconditional love are abundant even when we can't see the forest for the trees. He is good, even when we're screaming at the top of our lungs at Him, questioning the whys of our pain and suffering. It is in those moments He not only offers us but provides us insurmountable strength in those women who've become more than a friend, but a sister in arms. In those times our sisters, swords in hand, shields up nudge us to hold on to His promises much like Luke 1:45 does," Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her." And this is the way I have lived and continue to live my life. I struggle, my body fails and my mind at times goes mad, but in Him I am strong. In His grace I am fulfilled and in the women He's surrounded me with I am never alone in the fight. "I may be slightly broken, a little bruised and even permanently scared. But I still wake up every day with a tremendous will to fight. I am a strong woman who refuses to be defeated." (Attitude to Inspiration)
And so what I want to convey to you in Life Lesson #137 ~ the Strength of a Woman, is this: to be a woman of strength requires letting go of your ego, the pride that holds you back and embracing your path fully. You are a lion after all, not a wolf. Remember, "Heavy is the crown and she wears it as if it were a feather. There is strength in her heart, determination in her eyes and the will to survive resides within her soul. She is you, a warrior, a champion, a fighter, a queen." (R.H. Sin) But only because of those women, the warriors and queens on each side of you, holding up your arms in the thick of battle. As they say, may we know them, may we be them and may we raise strong women!
"She looked back and marveled how far she had come...She didn't wonder how she made it...She already knew the answer. Only with God's help had she powered through. for without His strength she could do nothing." ~ Godfruits
Sunday, March 26, 2017
"Sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage and I promise you something great will come of it." ~ We Bought A Zoo
Nothing has come easy since Joshua's injury. Throw in the rising cost of medical bills, the struggle to hold on to information in school, all while watching his parents eventually fall apart and back together again through high school was an insurmountable amount of pressure, uncertainty and fear for a teenage boy. He suffered rejection, loss of friends and self confidence and still came out the other side strong, with an insane courage, his faith in tact a guarded heart yes but with a gentle spirit all the same. By God's grace our son rose from the ashes, and the fire meant to destroy him high above the turbulence becoming the man he is today. Joshua's character emerged, his leadership abilities arose, his quiet confidence grew and his humility surfaced stronger than ever. I am reminded of all Joshua has become, through the fire and testing of his character when I re-read what Douglas McArthur once said. "A true leader has the confidence to stand alone. The courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent." When I read this, I see my son. Joshua's always chosen the road less traveled, the path that requires the most resistance. Because of this he's never accepted the ordinary life, never walked down the middle of the road even if meant having rotten tomatoes thrown at him. When I see my son, looking at all he's been through from the fear of losing me to breast cancer or being bullied because of his faith and beliefs that eventually led to his TBI I am humbled, inspired and ever so grateful for the man he has become.
When Joshua was born, we spoke a scripture over his life, not knowing just how important and relevant it would be as he grew. Joshua 1: 9 is that scripture. It goes like this,"This is my command ---be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." And even in the pain, the heartache and the suffering God has been there with Joshua every step. The reality is more times than not Joshua doesn't see himself as he really is. From the time he was little Joshua has had a remarkable and challenging life. Nothing has happened by chance not even the difficult times. Despite it all, he's stayed the course being a kind, generous and loyal to a fault young man. I often think of the movie 'Courageous' and the self titled song by Casting Crowns. This movie was an exceptionally relevant and significant film for Joshua. A year after he first saw this movie with his dad, Joshua had to dig deeper than ever before for his courage. It was during this time, Joshua was faced with a choice much like the song explains, "We were made to be courageous. And we're taking back the fight. We were made to be courageous. And it starts with us tonight. The only way we'll ever stand is on our knees with lifted hands. Make us courageous, Lord, make us courageous." Sure Joshua could have stayed on the sidelines of life, angry and defeated or as he did, rise up taking back the fight for his life.
I am completely humbled when I say Joshua has become a man of faith, integrity, humility, strength and courage. He's taught me so much about life and faith since he was born. He's one of my heroes. Joshua is by far nowhere near perfect. We don't always see eye to eye or find ourselves anywhere near the same page but that's OK. What Joshua has shown me through example is the importance of moving on from what you can't change, not worrying about being right or having the last word, forgiving those who hurt you and simply letting go. No matter where life has taken him, one thing is certain, his character has remained in tact. Those who have mocked, overlooked or even doubted him have not defined him. He's lived by a code, much like the one Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson emphasizes, "Show respect even to people who don't deserve it; Not as a refection of their character, but a reflection of yours." And from the beginning Joshua's character has been a reflection of endurance and perseverance. His life, despite his critics is a purpose driven life. Honestly to think when he was born Johnny and I named him after the strong leader and the courageous warrior Joshua in the Old Testament speaks volumes of God's hand in his life long before he was born. I mean we gave him his middle name, Caleb, for the faith and strength of his Biblical namesake. We could have never imagined he would have to fight so hard , to be as strong and courageous in his lifetime, overcoming struggles, battles and hardships much like his namesakes. Proverbs 22:1 says this, "A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold." Chris Giovagnoni explains the importance of a name beautifully, "Names are more than a convenience allowing us to talk to each other. Names are a gift from God. They contain His power. They define things. They define us." Looking out over Joshua's life so far, and waiting for what's yet to come Joshua's name more than defines him and will continue to all his life.
As for Life Lesson #136 ~ Insane courage...It's true, all it takes is twenty seconds of insane courage. And yes I do believe Joshua has more than proven this time and time again. My little boy is no longer a child, but a man of God and of character with a warrior's heart full of courage. Keep going beautiful boy, you're a good man, and you've given more meaning to your name than you know. For God has been generous. I love you to the moon and back, to infinity and beyond, forever and always.
"Never forget that I love you, Life is filed with hard and good times, Learn from everything you can. Be the man I know you can be." ~ Mom
Friday, March 24, 2017
Now let me make this clear, I am just as much a culprit in this kind of mess as anyone else. I mean seriously, my marriage fell apart on the grand stage of social media. How could it get any worse than that right? By God's grace, our marriage came back together stronger, happier, more genuine and far more real away from that very same stage. What I can say now after seeing and feeling the consequences of such drama is I've learned there's more integrity and dignity in stepping back, and thinking before we project a version of ourselves or our thoughts we don't even recognize. Being so caught up in the hurt, the anger and needing to feel right only leads to more hurt and anger and cutting off our noses despite our faces. The reality is, when we talk about the real you, the real me standing up, "We can either be shiny and admired or we can be real and loved." (Glennon Doyle Melton) I'd rather be real and loved especially in a world dominated by the fake, flashy and shallow and I think when most of us stop and ask ourselves the same, we agree. It's no secret, and there's no shame in the truth. For two years my husband and I struggled with our marriage. It wasn't because of a lack of love but honestly a lack of attention paid to our foundation. We were so caught up in a world of posts, pictures, likes and friending we lost sight of what mattered...each other. Johnny was trying to make ends meet, get fit and feel young again. I was neck deep into keeping everyone happy and with my internal tank sitting on empty I was unable to see what was happening right in front of me. So over 16 months ago both my husband and I walked away from social media and tended to our own foundation, rebuilding it, clearing the weeds away and tending to and watering our own grass.
The bigger picture for us, was not shutting down or putting anyone out of our lives. We just understood we needed to concentrate on ourselves, our marriage, our faith, family and the life we wanted together before anything else. There is a time and a place and a season for everything, Sometimes it's simply about waiting and growing, pulling up the weeds and not the roots of budding healthy blooms. And so for us after getting things in order in our own lives and home we've recently re-opened a small, joint Instagram account. And by small I mean family and a very, very few close friends. It's not that we're reclusive, it's simply a matter of accepting what Macey Kurtz says is true, "Some people will never know the real you and that's OK because not everyone deserves to." Johnny and I have just come to a place where our life is not on constant display, not for sale or up for auction to just anyone for the sake of a new follow. We're not caught up in whatever drama is going on, taking the perfect picture to post, staging scenes of our lives for prying eyes or convincing ourselves or anyone else for that matter how happy we are. Instead we are busy living our life and being real on both the good and bad days TOGETHER. Truthfully, that in itself brings a whole new level of happiness. You can say we have learned "making mistakes is better than faking perfection" any day of the week. This is the thing, when the real you stands up, no pretext, just the honest to goodness you, well something amazing happens. You stop worrying about impressing everyone and you actually begin making something beautiful of your life. So yes, this is our story, and our way of adjusting our personal sails through this great big social media storm. This is our choice, and a choice we're content in. I guess for Johnny and I we realized our life together, our family and who we really are as individuals didn't need to be displayed anymore. Why, well because our lives speak for themselves, imperfect and under construction daily. Together as a family, we're implementing some pretty sound advice by a much wiser woman than I, Brene Brown. "Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we're supposed to be and embracing who we are."
In closing and on a personal note my husband will tell you I'm about as stubborn as they come. Asking me who I am is seriously a loaded question. But I can say without a doubt I know who I am inside and out and my roots run deep. Personally, I'm a goofy, silly and at times perplexing combination of nerd, geek, Disney princess and hockey mom. I can be a hot mess, then turn around and pull it all together. I'm a public school teacher, a book worm and a breast cancer survivor. I'm a third generation born American, the only daughter of a Philly girl and a southern gentleman and a soldier. I'm married to the love of my life, an American Indian man and the mama of two uniquely different and handsome boys. I have an Irish temper and a southern grace about me. I am God made, Jesus saved and Texas raised. No one can tell me who I should be anymore nor should they. I guess that's the problem I see with social media. It has begun to define us in such a way that we sometimes forget who we really are, getting caught up in the staging of our lives. And that is exactly why it's so important to set those boundaries up, to know who you are, not what other people think you are. A great quote by Leila Sales explains it best for me, "Sometimes people think they know you. They know a few facts about you, and they piece you together in a way that makes sense to them. And if you don't know yourself very well you might even believe they are right. But the truth is, that isn't you. That isn't you at all." And this is the truth behind why don't we Facebook anymore. For us, it's simple...we are interacting, communicating and connecting with one another more often, giving all of ourselves to each another every day. That said, it's not out of pride, or because we're better than anyone else, that our way is gospel or it's the right thing for everyone. We have just found for ourselves, keeping the majority of our lives private is what makes us happy. After all the struggle, the hurt and drama Johnny and I agree, personal relationships be it friends or lovers, are at their best when cultivated away from the stage of social media. See we've personally found friendships, those that are real make us better people and hopefully with the same mind set. "We like people who understand. The type who aren't quick to judge. You can vent to them, and labeling you will be the last thing on their mind. They don't believe rumors because they know there are two sides to every story. They give you a chance before they judge you. They get to know who you really are, then have an opinion." When was the last time you read a social media post and thought this way? And that is why we left it all behind. We no longer take offence to the drama or the harsh words streaming out of spite or resentment anymore. The reason is simple too... we don't give it a window into our lives. The truth is anyone looking to poke the bear or outdo you simply isn't sure of who they really are yet. Give them time. Don't react, just breathe and wish them well. Amazingly, the Word of God is actually pretty clear on this, even in our modern times. 1 Samuel 1:7b says this, "The Lord doesn't see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." I guess the real questions we need to be asking ourselves is this, "What does your heart say about the real you? And what is it God sees when He looks into your heart?"
So this is what Life Lesson #135 ~ The Real You is really all about. Just maybe it's time to see ourselves and others as God does...with our hearts and with fresh eyes. The reality is sometimes it's not about standing up for the version of ourselves we think we are or showing off our faces to each other the way social media portrays us. Maybe, just maybe it's about stepping back, sitting down and being the authentic, genuine, real version of you. The you ,you know you were created to be.
"Be real. Be yourself. Be unique. Be true. Be honest. Be humble. Be happy." ~Anonymous
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
"WARNING: Reflections in this mirror may be distorted by socially constructed ideas of 'beauty'." ~ Anonymous
What I'm not, is a competitive person, and I never have been. If anything, I have been willing to take a step back giving the spotlight to others. I prefer being behind the curtain, giving props and applause to those I see as more deserving. It's who I am, part of my character. But that doesn't always mean I'm less than anyone else in the room. And that is the lesson of Life Lesson #134 ~ The Girl In the Mirror. What do I see today when I look at my own reflection? Well, I see the woman I was created to be, imperfect, chipped, blemished, dented and stained. But I also recognize I've found myself and my place in this world. After all there is great truth in Maya Angelou's words, "A woman in harmony with her spirit is like a river flowing. She goes where she will without pretense. And arrives at her destination, prepared to be herself and only herself." And that is my truth as well. I'm content with the life I've been given, the life I'm living. I'm not perfect nor am I striving to be. I'm not looking to appear happier or to be living a better life than anyone else. I am simply fulfilled. Even on the bad days when I'm sad or when things aren't going perfectly I'm content. I know my value and it's not based on the image I see in the mirror but in the reality of who my Father created me to be. I guess you could say, I've reached a place in my life where I fully understand that even with all my flaws, Ecclesiastes 3:11 is true, "He has made everything beautiful in its time."
As the woman I have become today, I've started pulling back the curtain covering the girl in the mirror. I have stepped out of the shadows finally. And I'm beginning to look more often at my reflection through my Father's eyes rather than my own. At 43, I write not to impress or prove my happiness to anyone. Simply I take pen to paper because it's how I breathe, how my pieces cohesively work together, how I find the parts of me not yet sorted and how I've learned to accept the girl staring back in the mirror. What I know, is that my life is my own, unique to my Father's design and no one, no matter how hard they may try can be me, nor I them. I haven't in any way arrived at my final destination but I do have a heading. Through trial and error, I have slowly come to understand ,"A woman who walks in purpose doesn't have to chase people or opportunities. Her light causes people and opportunities to pursue her." What I'm working on now is letting the passionate, creative woman I am out of her cage. It's taken a long time for me to get here, to accept I have worth in a world full of absurd and ridiculous expectations, but I'm on my way. I am now capable of living and breathing, embracing and revealing the girl and the woman I truly have become. I am no longer afraid of facing myself in the mirror even when I'm struggling with what I see. I understand my worth, even if those that judge me do not.
My advice? Stop trying to prove yourself to people and just be the original authentic you that you are. Go on, take a look, see the beautiful woman God has created you to be. And hold on to the powerful words of Scott Stabile as you do. "Let them judge you. Let them misunderstand you. Let them gossip about you. Their opinions aren't your problem. You stay kind, committed to love, and free in your authenticity. No matter what they do or say, don't you dare doubt your worth or the beauty of your truth. Just keep shining like you do." So go on, pull back the curtain. Take a good look at the girl in the mirror and see yourself as your Heavenly Father does...beautifully imperfect.
"Be yourself, no matter what other people think. God made you the way you are for a reason. Besides, an original is always worth more than a copy." ~ D.I. Quotes
Sunday, March 19, 2017
"Don't be troubled because of the mountain tops you have yet to touch. Like a tree, you will grow, not from the sky, but from the ground up." ~ Morgan Harper Nichols
Friday, March 17, 2017
"Protect your family. Honor your elders. Teach the young. Be loyal to your friend, Voice your opinion, Stand your ground. Take charge when others show weakness. Play when you can. Work when you must. Always leave your mark." ~ Celtic Wolf Code
It's no secret I come from a long line of Irish. I'm not quiet about being Irish either,but then when is an Irish woman ever really quiet? Our family is most definitely American - Irish, but our roots are still very much tied to Erie. County Limerick to be exact and our family there continues to tie us to our family tree. Now the reality is St. Patrick's Day is a completely different kind of celebration over here. We've more than Americanized it to be sure. From the green beer, to the corned beef to the beads. We tend to forget the religious part of the Feast of St. Patrick, emphasizing more on the wide spread idea that everyone is Irish for a day. No matter how we celebrate, if you're Irish it's a day to honor and remember your culture, faith and heritage. And yes raising a pint is just part of the celebration. St. Pat's day has always been one of my favorite days to spend with my family celebrating. And not just our long line of family history but also the struggle and hardships we have overcome as a family of Irish Immigrants.
As most days are, today was a day well spent. Of course we enjoyed our corned beef, cabbage, carrots, potatoes and bread for lunch as a family. Johnny took the day off, my parents came over and together we broke bread. My dad told us stories from when he was coming up of my grandda, his grandda and all their shenanigans. We reminisced about the boys old ghillies hanging up from when they were little and the days of Irish dance troupes and classes. As is typical when the Dowling clan gathers together we laughed out loud and spoke even louder than we laughed and all with our hands moving all over the place. I love all these things about my family, and I love the story of who we are and where we came from before we became part of the Irish-American fabric. This is my heritage and who I am, always and forever an Irish girl. These are my people, my family and they will always be a part of who and what we are as a family for future generations. What I have found, and learned through the years growing up American with deep Irish roots is this, "When you're born with the blood of Ireland coursing through your veins, it matters not what you do, or where you go in life, you will always be Irish." And that is why I love St. Pat's day so much here in the States. No matter where you come from, no matter you're color or culture if you have a drop of Irish blood, you're Irish! And if you don't, we still count you as part of the family!
What I really love about celebrating my heritage on this one particular day out of the year is being able to do so with our cara, our friends in English. I smile raising my glass on a such a wide spread day of celebrating everything Irish because I know personally the hardships our family has faced. I understand as an Irish-American woman how difficult it was for our immigrant ancestors to come here out of famine and work houses to a country who rejected them for no other reason than they were Irish. Now all these many generations later, taking part in the boisterous fun of craic inside an Irish pub on St. Patrick's day shows the true strength, stubbornness and endurance of our Irish born ancestors. I am reminded of what a great Irish woman who made America her home once said about Irish women. In her words I see myself and every other Irish woman I know. I'm humbly proud of who and where I come from and all that carries with it. The beautiful and amazing Maureen O'Hara was right, "Being an Irish woman means many things to me. An Irish woman is strong and feisty. She has guts and stands up for what she believes in. She believes she is the best at whatever she does and proceeds through life with that knowledge. She can face any hazard that life throws her way and stay with it until she wins. She is loyal to her kinsmen and accepting of others. She's not above a sock in the jaw if you have it coming." And I will also add she is fun-loving, gracious and loving, stubborn and forgiving.
Yes, today was a good day. One full of celebrating family and friends. And a good reminder that I am an American born woman of Irish descent. I carry all the love and determination of those who came before me. As Psalms 119:111 says, "Your testimonies I have as a heritage forever, for they are my heart’s joy." This is my heart, and speaks better than I could ever express of the testimony of my family, our heritage and the joy of the life that is ours. Many speak of Irish gold on days like today, but many forget the real truth of such treasures. Christopher Poinndexter expresses my feelings best when it comes to the Irish spirit and our heart and soul. "It is ever so beautiful to be strange. To do things differently than others, To see things in a rare light. To me, that is such gold to carry."
And so as today comes to an end, I wish you a Happy St. Paddy's day and remind you of an old Irish proverb. "The older the fiddle the sweeter the tune." And looking out across all the green, the glasses of green pints raised toasting the Irish tonight I have to admit this is about as true as it gets. When it I think of where we were and how far we have come as a people there is no doubt the Irish have made their mark, becoming part of the American fabric in ways our immigrant ancestors could have never imagined of their descendants. And so Life Lesson #132 ~ Being Irish, is simply this, "If you're Irish it doesn't matter where you go - you'll always find family." (Victoria Smurfit) I am blessed to have found mine. My wish for you today is that you find yours as well. And so today I raise my glass to all those who are both Irish and Irish just for the day, saol fada chugat, long life to you.
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
As parents it isn't always easy to know the right thing to do or say, how to direct our children or what doors to lock and throw away the keys to. Many times we tend to over react or be too passive, but behind all the uncertainty of raising kids are these two words, unconditional love. I am by far the farthest thing from a perfect parent, believe me just ask my kids, they will tell you. But I do know, Johnny and I despite all our missteps have raised our boys to be 100 %, completely themselves, no questions asked and all with unconditional love. As parents we feel it's own job to shape and prune our children's lives, to teach them and while this is true we tend to forget that they are many times our teachers as well. At 18, Micah is absolutely a rare kind of unparalleled limited edition. He doesn't seek forgiveness for who he is and while some of that coms from living life on a fantastic unfiltered spectrum, it is also who he is. He is not defined by his quirks, but instead those exceptional traits are defined by him. I think Osho says it brilliantly, "Come out of the masses, Stand alone like a lion and live your life according to your own light." This is the truth Micah has not only taught me, but brought into my life as his mom.
Life Lesson #131 ~ Finding Your Direction, reminds us not to be afraid of change. After all, "Sometimes in the winds of change we find our TRUE direction." I honestly have no idea what direction Micah will take from here. Nor do I know where his authenticity will lead him or what footprints he'll leave behind for those generations who follow him. What I do know is this, whatever direction his life takes, it will be a pretty amazing one. And so today, I wish you my baby boy, all grown up, a very happy 18th birthday. I love you more than you will ever know. But who knows, maybe one day you'll come close when you have children of your own. Until then, know I love you unconditionally and no matter what, never stop finding your own direction.
Monday, March 6, 2017
"Families are like branches on a tree. We grow in different directions yet our roots remain as one." ` Anonymous
I am a Dowling. I came to my name by way of my dad, the oldest of the five Irish Catholic children born to Robert and Mary Dowling. My dad is a third generation born American. As the great-granddaughter times two of my immigrant great- great grandparents I come from a long line of Irish. Immigrants who worked hard to come over on boats across the ocean to this great country. Our roots are planted deep in southern country roads and dirt floors. Poor men and women done good, working in the steel mills of Alabama and fighting for the freedom of their beloved adopted country.They most definitely faced demons, fought off devils and eventually found Jesus. Peering into our family history there is deep, dark struggle, heart-ache and difficulties. Some stories are best left unread while others should be retold time and time again, as often as possible. Truthfully, "Our family is just the right mix of chaos and love." We may not always get along, or agree but when push comes to shove we stand side by side, hand in hand TOGETHER. Sarcasm may be apart of who we are, after all we're Irish but no one ever stands alone and you can take that to the bank. And so this post it is about is my history, our history and our story as family. And yes it has refined, defined and shaped me into the glorious stubborn hot mess of a southern woman I am today.
The truth is my dad's childhood was difficult, full of struggle and uncertainty. Yet this man, now the patriarch if you like still grieves over not ever doing enough or being there enough for his family and siblings. He is a man of honor and strength. A man who would willingly lay his own life down for those he loves. What I have learned through the years is that my dad is a man of integrity and faith. A man who has never had it easy. His life has always been a testimony of God's love, grace and mercy even in the thick of it. My dad has given me so much more than my name. He's given me a roof over my head and food in my belly. He's provided refuge and arms always open but he's given me even more than that. My dad, he's always given me unconditional love, a solid foundation to build my life and my faith on and taught me by example the meaning of grace under fire. He's truly a selfless, loving man, like none I have ever known. he doesn't ask for anything in return. He just simply gives of himself until there is no more to give. I think back on the way he sent all his money home to his dad while he was in Vietnam. He did this in order to take care of his siblings. He never thought twice, he just gave in spite the demons nipping at his own heels. This is the same example of grace and mercy I have been witness to all my life. What my dad has taught me is no matter your history, the pitfalls or the circumstances, you can rise above. This is his legacy, my history and our story, one worth telling and remembering.
The truth is while we can not escape the pages of our past or of our family history we can most assuredly decide how it shapes us and how our story is told. I guess when it comes down to it my dad has taught me how to pull myself up by my bootstraps. And while my dad and his life are a book filled with stories of hardships and difficulties most certainly his story is also full of chapters transforming chaos into grace and harmony. Looking at my dad's life, his family and our history I have come to believe the old saying is true,"Only God can turn a mess into a message, a test into a testimony, a trail into a triumph and a victim into a victory." Pen to paper I have to give all credit to Jesus for designing and shaping my life and give my dad credit for the faith I carry with me today. Why, well because I saw my dad's faith in continual motion in spite of everything. By his example I came to see Colossians 1:7 alive, living vibrantly in front of me everyday. "In HIM all things hold together." Sure life could have been easier on my dad, he could have gone to college earlier, met my mom sooner, not gone to war or left home at 17 but that isn't his story, nor is it our history. Those days, those endless nights of uncertainty made my dad into the unwavering man he is. I am humbled to be his daughter, the granddaughter and great - granddaughter of poor Irish immigrants. We are Dowlings, a wee bit crazy, exceptional loud but we are born and stitched together, part of the same cloth. "We aren't step or half, we're simply family." (MomGoTink) And today,because of my dad's humble beginnings not only do I have a large, beautiful and if not sometimes stubborn, feisty family but so do my children. I have cousins, aunts and uncles who I share a history with. A story full of both laughter and tears. And because of this extraordinary link we share an unbreakable bond even if we're miles apart.
So today as I look through so many countless family pictures reading through the pages of our Dowling family history I see happiness, and joy, laughter, dancing and hopefulness. Yes my eyes roll across the tales of misery and suffering too, but be assured they are not forgotten and if I listen closely I can hear stories of endurance and love coming from our pages. Time passes too quickly, and so do those we love and hold dear. My simple prayer is this, that we may stay close, bridging the gaps time and distance open and never lose sight of each other. Our memories, our history and our family is only as strong as we are,TOGETHER. And so Life Lesson #130 ~ Our History, leads me here, to this page and a quote by the always interesting Vincent Van Gogh, "Great things are done by a series of small things brought together." And that my friends is the true story and history of our family.
"We're all stories in the the end...Just make it a good one." ~ Dr. Who
Friday, March 3, 2017
"Everything has changed and yet, I am more me than I've ever been." ~ Iain Thomas
If my life were a book it would start something like this...There once was a little girl. She was kind, and good. She loved Jesus and her Mama. She was her daddy's little girl and had his grit to boot too. This little girl loved to sing and dance, to laugh, to play and to jump on beds. She was a bit of an oddball, wearing tiaras and capes, always full of spirit and adventures running wild through her own imagination. She loved silly thingys, nonesensey dodads, fantasy thingamajigs and make-believe whatchamacalits. She liked to read, write and create. And she loved to quote the great Dr. Seuss in such ways as this,"I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living. It's a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope, which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life's realities." Birthdays, parties, cakes and gifts came and went. And just like her mind, and age too, her life expanded as well. She learned to embrace the good with the bad and to celebrate the love and personal magic living inside her heart. And yes, her love for life, a bit of mischief and Jesus grew too in spite of the difficulties and hardships that seemed to follow her to and fro.
Time and time again, even as her body failed from an early age, this little girl saw life for what it really is, a gift you see, a masterpiece all of her own, and a life she fully embraced. You see this little girl discovered something awfully big, an idea and a way of thinking and of looking at life without regret. She didn't have to convince herself life was beautiful, because it just was, even if her scares were in plain sight. And you know why, well because she understood the idea of "walking with God through pain and suffering" isn't about questioning God but trusting Him. Timothy Keller explains this beautifully, "There is purpose to suffering and if faced rightly it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine." Her suffering was not ever in vain and she knew this very well. The hardships, distress and adversities wasn't to cause her pain, but to open her eyes to what a meaningful, full life really is. The calamity and misadventures only enforced the certainty of her core values and the authenticity of her candor. She didn't need to be rich, or popular. She didn't need a high dollar education or a title added to the beginning or end of her name. She didn't need to be perfect or stressed out, in a hurry or manufacture any sort of self-created chaos. All this little girl really needed was to be real, to be humble and never try too hard to be anything other than herself.
As she grew into a woman, this little girl found herself. She no longer let the drama of life hold her down. In letting go of the worries and woes life tried to offer along the way this little girl became the woman she is this very day. She became dangerous, but only because she wasn't afraid to be herself. She didn't have to come to the end of her dreams, just the end of herself and in doing this she stopped putting commas and question marks in her life where God was putting periods. In the process she came fully into herself, and into her own measure, completely realizing she was not the kind of girl who needed saving, but the kind of woman who knows her worth. Just as R.H. Sin conveys, "She was dangerous, independent and strong. the sound of her heels against the marble floor shook the devil up." And in being this kind of woman, this once little girl became stronger than she ever realized possible. In the face of diabetes and breast cancer, a stroke and multiple auto-immune diseases she became capable of handling anything by God's grace. Jeremiah 1:5 says this, “I knew you before you were formed within your mother’s womb." And the truth is God, my Father, knew me long before He breathed life into my spirit. He knew everything I would become and go through, good and bad. He set my life apart even before I was ever an apple in my parents eyes. What I know is this: He loves me, even with my stubborn attributes and all. Long before the pages of my life were even thought out or fully planned and before pen was put to ink and ink put to paper He began drafting the pages of my life. In doing this, my Heavenly Father began coloring in my life with both brilliant and dark hues. He knew to write in "the light bringers, the magic makers, the world shifters and the game shakers." He knew they would "challenge me, break me open, uplift and expand me. They wouldn't let me play small with my life." And He knew,"these heartbeats would be my people and my tribe." My Father, He knew just the presence of their lives within my own would shape me into the woman I'd eventually become.
Life Lesson #129 ~ The Pages of My Life is a simple story of a little girl who grew up to understand, "in the end, we all become stories." (Margaret Atwood) And that is what I am, a story, one of millions He's written. The pages of my life tell my story from the moment I was born to the birth of my children. These sometimes messy pages reveal who I was and who I have become. Every detail of my life is recorded and inscribed. There are pages and chapters worth retelling and others I'd like to forget. There are victories scrawled across the vast pages of my life from the days of battling breast cancer to becoming the survivor I am today. If I have learned anything in this life it's this, the pages of your life can be beautifully out of place and so can you. It's your life, your story and your pages. So live your life authentically, never give up on yourself and simply be who you really are, weird and all.
"I don't know how my life will end, but nowhere in my text will it ever read...I gave up."
Wednesday, March 1, 2017
"Some days I wish I could go back in life. Not to change anything but to feel a few things twice." ~ Anonymous
Johnny and I would both tell you our boys, these amazing children we've been blessed by God with are the greatest gifts of our lives. Joshua and Micah are by far the most precious blessings to come from the merging of our lives and families. I often say I'd love to have a couple days a month with our children, as little boys again. Just one or two a days a month to experience our boys as the small little arrows they once were... to hold them, to brush their curly locks for a moment or cuddle up and read them bed time stories together one more time. If only we could right?
For 20 years Johnny and I have raised our tribe, our arrows. Teaching them both to shoot straight, be humble, kind and to be fully and completely themselves. We have worked hard to keep them covered under a tent of unconditional love, stitched together by God's grace and forgiveness. But the truth is we've failed them many times and we've had to patch up holes from the many storms that have come our way. We've dealt with the simple wear and tear of time and of course the enemy tearing at the bottom of our canvas. As parents we've worried, been concerned the shelter we've provided hasn't always been strong enough to protect our tribe from the outside elements. But in spite of all that angst, God has always been faithful. But I'm also a mama who has never backed down from protecting our cubs. Together, Johnny and I have always put their safety, and needs before our own. We've loved our boys fiercely and unconditionally. And I pray our boys, now men, have seen in us an ability to survive, to fight and to defend our home, our family and our tribe with a love that's known no bounds. As a mama, "I am a wolf: It's in my nature to be kind, gentle and loving...BUT KNOW THIS: when it comes to matters of protecting my children, my family and my heart - don't trifle with me for I'm also the most powerful and relentless creature you will ever know."
From the very start, our children have been our number one priory. Looking at all the pictures above I see love, joy, happiness and a bond unique to our own little clan, our tribe and our band of rag-a-muffins. We've certainly had our share of adventures, hardships and escapades. Our home has not been perfect in any way, but it's been a happy abode. Under our tent, inside our walls we've strived to provide a place to renew our spirits, unburden our souls and to always be ourselves. From the days spent wandering the zoo, riding roller coasters side by side and fishing off the pier together to split milk, tears and unexplained heartaches, we've done it all together. If I could freeze time and go back and watch my kids grow up all over again I would. Raising our arrows has been a gift, like none else. We've shared both good and bad times, difficult or extraordinary, it has always been TOGETHER. The days have passed too quickly for my liking but they have never felt anything less than a blessing. Today, our little arrows aren't so little anymore for certain. They are more like the archer preparing to carry their own quiver of arrows one day. And while Johnny and I are well aware our arrows will leave our tent soon, setting off on adventures, carving out a life and a home of their own soon enough we're not afraid. All we can do now is trust God we have done all we can, raising them to be steady, sharp and skilled arrows with a Bodkin point. I see the love we've instilled in them and I know they are on their way to becoming honorable and good men. Through the years our boys have learned to take their time, to be kind, gentle and forgiving. They know how it feels to be trampled on but they also know the value of generosity and thoughtfulness. You see, Bradley Miller was correct, "Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child as it is to the caterpillar." And that lesson will continue to reap blessings for the rest of their lives.
Life Lesson #128 ~ Raising My Tribe is not about the highs or the lows of raising children. It's not about being the better parent or taking pride in a quiver full of strong arrows. No, this is simply a reflection of the days gone by and a glimpse into the hope yet to come as we think of our arrows becoming archers themselves. What Johnny and I have learned by both trial and error is simply what Karyn Purvis believes, "We cannot teach our children something we do not live." And so I pray just as I have done so each and every day of my babies lives, to be an example of Christ to them. Imperfect yes, but with a heart full of unconditional love, and a desire for our children to become strong men loving a great God. Psalm 127:3-5 says, "Don’t you see that children are God’s best gift? The fruit of the womb his generous legacy? Like a warrior’s fistful of arrows are the children of a vigorous youth. Oh, how blessed are you parents, with your quivers full of children! Your enemies don’t stand a chance against you; you’ll sweep them right off your doorstep." And Joshua and Micah are God's best gift, they have given us so much love, hope and even more joy than we could ever describe. They are our arrows, keeping our quiver full, continually pointing us back to His grace and goodness every day. Raising our tribe, well it has been the greatest blessing of my life. One I cannot fully detail without the feelings of gratitude and thankfulness overwhelming me. Our legacy together is found solely in God's generosity. Aim high, shoot for the stars and keep your eyes always on Him our sweet, beautiful arrows. And never forget how much I love you, our family and our tribe!
"You are precious in every way, the sunshine in my day, the joy in my soul and the love of my life." ~Mom