I’m so cold!

It has been a “bleak midwinter” in West Michigan, to say the least. I did not experience the normal delight and fascination with the cold months as we muddled through over a dozen snow days. My cheer at seeing the white flakes descend and cover the earth with a bright and beautiful blanket waned as the temperatures dropped below zero.

I experienced something foreign to me during this post-Christmas season, something akin to fear. We lost our power for 30 hours. My poor husband was stuck in the house, getting more frigid by the minute, attempting to entertain our 4 young children without electricity. Although the first day they had fun running all over the house with their flashlights and “camping”, by the second day they were bored and cold. Our thermostat dipped to 49 degrees. My closest family members were either without power themselves or had contagious illnesses. Without an alternative heat source, I felt powerless (no pun intended) and trapped.
After 24 hours my dad called to say he would pack up his extra generator and some gas and make the trek over. A 35 minute drive took over an hour as my 73-year-old father traveled through snow-laden roads and icy conditions. He hotwired our furnace and got the refrigerator plugged in and 30 minutes later our power came back on. And since they call him “Mr. Lucky”, he even got a flat tire on the way home to thank him for his efforts.
A couple weeks later we were up visiting my parents at their country acreage, the weather much like it had been that day. My young boys with ceaseless energy are undaunted by the cold, so I went outside with my four-year-old.  As I stood watching him play in the sandbox turned “snow box”, the 30+ mph winds howled through the pines. It was an eerie sound and that feeling of fear returned, or was it insecurity? Will we lose power again? Will these bone-chilling days never end? Memories of my two-year-old’s beet-red, ice-cold hands came flooding back. He refuses to wear mittens because… he’s two. What more can I do to keep my little ones warm?
The next day I rode to work and noticed how much brighter the sky was. The days were surely getting longer and the sun shone brightly already at 7:30am.” Ahhh, the promise of spring,” I said to myself, “it’s getting closer!” And with it, warmth…

I continued to ponder what it meant to feel cold, or as if the wind could rip the skin right off your face. We lost power for a day and a half and the wind whipped for another day and a half, but what about those who feel cold practically permanently? The homeless, those who cannot afford adequate heat, even those who endure cold-hearted people or suffer the hardness of their own hearts? The cold made me feel so insecure, so uncomfortable, so discontented. I just wanted to run to the nearest fireplace and drink a cup of hot chocolate.

As I continued my musing I realized that my own relationship with God has in many ways grown cold. When do I talk to him? Do I view him as my friend, my love? I make so many excuses for myself. I’m so busy, I’m exhausted, my kids need me. Half the time we even forget to say grace before meals! I also realize I tend to make biting comments about coworkers or family members with the pretext that “I’m just joking.” My words and behavior toward others lack warmth. Perhaps I am even making them feel the same insecurity I felt. I am not one to quote Scripture or speak often of God’s unfailing love, but I can let his warm light shine through my kind words and loving actions. So as the change of seasons draws nigh, I also vow for a change of heart, my own.

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Let’s Keep Celebrating!

I’m pretty sure this season should be called “the time of finding stray pine needles all over my house until Lent” (or maybe next Advent) instead of just plain old “Ordinary Time”. Yes, we caved and took down our Christmas decorations a week before the official Church time was over, mostly because we were so tired of my two-year-old constantly taking the ornaments off the tree and pulling on the lights. And even better, as soon as the artificial pine made its glorious appearance, it became his hiding place to, ahem, “do his business”.  Sure, he cried when he saw us taking down all things red and green, but his daddy was elated to finally stop tripping over mommy’s ever-growing snowman collection that reminded us all to “Have a holly, jolly Christmas”.

So here we are, watching the rain fall from a perpetually gray sky and wondering what’s next. “What’s next?” my husband asks me, then answers his own question by listing off “our son’s birthday, then my birthday, then Valentine’s Day, then Easter, and before we know it, it will be summertime again…” Although we are relieved to be back on a normal schedule, we always have to have something to look forward to, don’t we? Something exciting or uplifting just around the bend that keeps our spirits high and our attitudes from plunging into the mud puddles forming outside.

Far from a flippant “aaahhh, life is good” these occasions provide an opportunity for celebration. Yes, life is worth celebrating. Birthdays, holidays, marriage anniversaries, baptismal anniversaries, saint name feast days, and even a plain old weekend is worth celebrating because we do it together as a family.

As the years pass and I look ahead to my 40th birthday this fall, I find myself looking for more and more reasons to celebrate, to be joyful and share joy. The onset of massive amounts of information brought on by the digital age tends to focus on the negative, the dramatic, the outrageous or the picture perfect. I prefer to focus on the real and the ordinary: when your son scores two goals at a soccer game or dares to try a new sport, when your preschooler asks you to teach him how to read, when your toddler starts learning how to talk, when your new baby just starts to giggle.

Every day the human intermingles with the divine in those sudden realizations, those little epiphanies, those moments of forgiveness and healing, those sentiments of profound gratitude. I care nothing about the latest technology or the latest fashion. I consider it a small miracle that I have a phone that works and that I get to work on time bathed and without my clothing on inside out. I spend much more time considering needs rather than wants. My life is full of dumb jokes that I consider hilarious, my  children’s hugs and kisses that warm my heart, infant bodily fluids that I try to clean up with smile, constant sibling squabbles that I have little patience for and a faith that keeps me going through it all. And these, my friends are the things worth celebrating.

 

Our Counter-Cultural Lifestyle

FELIX:

Many times people have high expectations for their loved ones because they want to feel proud telling others about their amazing job, their fancy car, their new house and their frequent travels. I used to think that way as a single person but all of that changed when I had a family and now my children and my wife come first. I left a great IT position to become a Stay at Home Dad. I have a car that runs instead of a fancy one, an old house instead of a new one, and I do it all so as to dedicate myself to bringing up my boys and educating them.

In the eyes of my culture, I am someone who wants to be provided for, someone who doesn’t want to work, a lazy bum. I had trouble adapting to my new position for the first six months because I didn’t have a set schedule of going in work, coming home and taking breaks. I had to talk and be active all the time because that’s what it takes to raise boys. Little by little I began to understand them and the constant changes this job entails on a daily basis. They taught me to discover my faults and to realize that I had yet to overcome them, so I sought help to better myself.

To be a stay-at-home parent doesn’t mean watching TV or playing around on the computer all day long, having plenty of time to read, fall asleep on the couch, or do whatever you want, and telling them to go play video games so they don’t bother you. You have to play with them, get down on the floor, get dirty, wet, and change their clothes (and diapers) multiple times a day. It’s a job that wears you out physically and mentally every day, but the smiles and love you receive in return are priceless. Money does not buy children’s love. What they want is that their mom and dad be a part of their world, not that their mom and dad make them a part of their grownup world, that only stresses them out. My children and my wife are the best gift God has given me and I will always be grateful for the opportunity to be with them.

When I was single, I prayed fervently asking God that if He ever allowed me to have children that they be boys, so He sent me 4. What He never told me was that I was going to take care of them and educate them in order to spend much more time with them. But that was God’s plan and we never know what that plan is going to be, we should just let ourselves be led by it.

There is no reason to think less of ourselves because we are stay-at-home dads. Perhaps we have disappointed family members and friends because of what we do, but our children will be grateful for it, because we have put our own personal goals aside in order to be with them and their mothers have humbly accepted a different role.

TAMI:

God’s plans are (almost) never our plans. When I got married, I thought we would both work for a couple years to pay off college debt as we tried to get pregnant and then I would be a stay-at-home mom just like my mother had. I wanted to be able to nurse them, take care of them, be a part of their field trips and school activities, be there for them when they were sick, volunteer, and maybe do a little side work from home. However, God blessed us with pregnancy after just one month of marriage, so we moved to Cincinnati so my in-laws could help us with child care while we finished up paying off our accounts. Then, just over a year after my son was born, we found out we were expecting our second son. I asked my boss to go down to part time, after maternity leave since my husband had just landed a promising 6-month contract. That way I could spend more time with them. Life was good!

Soon after, we took a short trip up to Michigan to visit my family and while we were there, we received dual life-changing messages. The company my husband had signed with reneged on the contract saying they had decided to fill the position internally and then his family said they were no longer able to help watch our kids due to health issues and schedule conflicts. What were we supposed to do now? Our whole world came crashing down in a matter of minutes. Thankfully we were immediately enfolded into the loving arms of my parents. “Come live here!” they said, “The house is empty most of the time anyway since we are staying more and more often at the Belding house.” They had been hoping and praying we would find our way back to Michigan, and although it was part of our 5-year plan, it looked like it was going to happen much sooner.

In January of 2015 we welcomed our second son and in May we rented a moving truck and headed north. After 4 months of unemployment and 9 months of my husband ruining his body doing heavy work at a car parts factory, enough was enough. We had looked for a permanent job for him for over 5 years in 3 different states, filling out hundreds of applications and going through multiple roller coasters rides of emotions. We felt like we were beating a dead horse. Something had to give!

In October of 2016 we welcomed our third son and by February of the following year we realized perhaps we were trying to make God’s plan our plan and we should try a different angle. So I started looking for a job instead and landed one within a couple weeks! I have been working full time ever since and my husband has been the primary caretaker of our children and our home.

This fall I was off on maternity leave with our 4th son. I was commenting to someone that one of the perks of my husband staying at home is that when I had a baby or was on vacation, we could all be home together. She looked at me and said, “uh oh, is that a good thing?” to which I responded, “yes, I actually enjoy being with my husband.” (I mean why would you marry someone if you didn’t like their company??) We enjoyed 12 weeks together as I recovered from my C-section and we all inundated the new baby with an abundance of hugs and kisses. It was a time full of fun family activities, lots of appointments and a whole lot of craziness. I even got to help with a couple of my son’s school activities!

Although this was definitely not what I had envisioned from the time I was a child, it has been a huge blessing in disguise. Our boys are very energetic and often mischievous and my husband has much more patience with them than I do. He educates them, plays with them, feeds them (constantly) and teaches them how to be respectful men. He helps them to lead a much more balanced and active lifestyle than I ever could and when I come home we have dinner together as a family and I cover them with hugs and kisses, help them with homework, read to them and pray with them. In many ways I think I am a much better mother because I work. It makes me appreciate all the more the little time I do have with them.

My husband and I both have peace and joy in our hearts knowing that we are following God’s plan. We still have days when I wish I could be a stay-at-home mom and he wishes he could work outside the home, but we know this is what God wants for us for now. When job possibilities pop up here and there for my husband, we usually look into them without getting our hopes up. In the end we realize they were just a distraction or a temptation and we are exactly where we need to be. Our hearts and minds are open and we are fully aware that our situation is not permanent. Once the kids are a little older and they are all in school he can pick up contracts, part time jobs, or work from home. Who knows, maybe he will land a great full time job and I will go down to part time. He is confident his time will come and so am I, because we work to live and don’t live to work. We place God and family first and remain grateful for our many blessings.

Felix’s Weight-loss Journey

There are few things more difficult in this life than trying to maintain a healthy weight. I have struggled with it my whole life, watching the scale going up and down like a ping pong ball. When I got married I was in a good spot. I had lost a lot of weight while living in Peru, since I barely had two pennies to rub together and ate only one full meal a day. But after coming back to the States and getting married, we enjoyed wedded bliss along with plenty of food and desserts. We were happy and carefree.

I noticed my pant and shirt sizes were going up but didn’t give it much importance until I realized how hard it was getting to chase my kids around, get up from the couch and pick things up off the floor. I stepped on the scale at a yearly check up and it glared back at me with a whopping 290 lbs. The doctor prescribed a complete blood panel and suggested I begin an exercise routine, especially cardio. When I looked at myself in the mirror, I seemed normal enough. My size 44 pants were even a little loose.

I got bloodwork results back from the doctor and I had high cholesterol, my good cholesterol was low and my sugar was borderline. So I started looking for exercise videos on youtube and found a 30 minute aerobic workout. I read the commentaries and those that tried it said they quit after just 5 minutes because it was too intense. I saw it as a challenge and told myself I was going to do the whole 30 minutes, with God’s help, for my children and my wife.  

I started with three times a week and let me tell you, it was not easy! The instructor had us jumping all over the place and then I did sit ups for 10 minutes afterwards. It wore me out, but I kept it up for nine months and never gave up. I had lost 40 lbs and was now at 250. Summertime arrived and I was so sick of exercising that I lowered my intensity to once or twice a week and I allowed myself my fair share of ice cream, so I gained 10lbs back.  

Once fall arrived, I looked up how much a man my height should weigh and it said 160-196 lbs, so I made a goal for myself to get down to 220 and I returned to my former exercise routine, adding 30 minutes of stationary bike on the off days. But I seemed to have plateaued and every time I got on the scale it still said 260. I talked about it with my wife and she said that I needed to change my diet as well. She found me a Weight Watchers book and we began counting our points together. Each food has a certain number of points according to calories, fat grams, and dietary fiber and each person is alloted a certain number of points according to their height and current weight. As you begin to lose, your points decrease so you can continue losing.  

It was a huge sacrifice, but I stopped eating chocolate chip cookies, cheese, milk and bread products, stopped drinking Coke, and began drinking lots of water. I lost 10 lbs the first week… I was floored! I did not lose quite as much during the following weeks but continued to lose steadily. I looked up videos on what to eat for breakfast and lunch and began to analyze what my body needed to remain active without being so hungry all the time. I realized that oatmeal made me anxious and I was hungry again an hour later. Two eggs didn’t fill me up, nor did cereal. One day I tried eating a grapefruit and a breakfast salad of tuna with celery and grape tomatoes, and realized it was perfect. Between breakfast and lunch I would have piece of fruit or a cup of cereal to tide me over.

For lunch I would make myself a big salad with tuna, lettuce and spinach and just fresh lime juice and salt for dressing, along with a can of soup. This menu has been a great help for the past 20 months. When I have a hankering for something sweet, I enjoy ¼ cup of prunes and that helps to take the edge off.

There have been many difficult moments along this weight-loss journey, especially when I really want something sweet. I have to calm myself down, drink water and ask the Good Lord for His help. These moments of temptation happen quite often but thankfully I have been able to resist. I would always give myself a free day on Sundays and eat whatever I wanted. That way I didn’t feel completely trapped and without treats. I saw the numbers on the scale continue to go down and my clothes getting looser and looser until one day I was down to 205 lbs! I couldn’t believe it! I had lost 85 lbs and felt like a different person! I am still tired quite often, since I am almost 40 and my active boys keep me busy, but I am in a much better spot and am so happy.

For the past few months I have been maintaining. I continue eating the same diet Monday through Friday afternoon and then enjoy the weekend eating what I wish. I usually gain 5-7 lbs over the weekend and then shed them back off during the week to remain right around 210 lbs.

It is still a constant battle, as I struggle with anxiety, fatigue, and a big sweet tooth, but somehow I always find the motivation to continue on with diet and exercise. My children, my wife and my God are my motivation. They give me the strength to continue on. Even when it’s really hot or really cold, I continue consistently because I want to feel better, and now I have much more energy and am able to do much more.  

I wanted to share my story because I know so many can relate to it, whether it be in the arena of food, exercise and weight, or some other habit. We all have our own struggles, our own motivations and our own levels of faith. May you find the motivation you need to be the best you possible!

 

Happy Anniversary

One night in Peru in 2011 I couldn’t sleep, which was often the case, because although it was a bit difficult to find in Lima (a large and bustling city), I enjoyed the tranquility of the night.  I was always waiting for the right person to come into my life and I wanted to be awake so I wouldn’t miss seeing her for the first time. I enjoy writing about the things of love and that night I wrote this poem for that person who is now my wife:

You arrived at the perfect time

To hold you in my heart,

It was an autumn night

And I only had eyes for you.

You arrived at the perfect time

To hand over to you all the feelings

That had grown over time

To make the tree of love flower.

You are the smile that fills me

Every day of my life,

Simply knowing that you’re there

You are always with me.

You are the happiness that makes me dream

Walking together through breathtaking landscapes

With our fingers intertwined

So that we may never be separated.

You are the woman I always dreamed of

The one I had always been waiting for

And now I have the opportunity to write you

A love poem.

You are the woman that came into my life

To remain on this path together

Of morning after morning and night after night

Watching each other grow old for the rest of our lives.

 

It was May 18, 2012,  a special day for me and my bride. Who would have thought that I would get married? Everything I had ever dreamed of was about to take place in a few hours, minutes, seconds. Many people spoke to me as I got to know my bride’s family and friends. They were always very kind to me, but I didn’t speak much. I mostly talked only with my bride, because everything was brand new, a new city, a new Catholic church, a new family and new friends. We got married on a Friday. It was the first time I had heard of having a wedding on a Friday. They normally take place on Saturdays. It’s not that we were desperate, but rather we wanted to step outside of the norm and get married that day, and I liked the idea.

While I waited inside the church, I spoke very little and didn’t know if my bride was even going to show up. It was all a great mystery and I wasn’t sure if it was really happening or if it was just a dream. I wanted to pinch myself to wake up, but all of a sudden, my bride appeared and I continued right on dreaming. I said to myself, “Wake up, Felix! This is your wedding! You’re getting married for real!”, but I continued on in a deep dream. After saying our vows, which I could barely pronounce because I was in such shock, we went to pray in front of the Blessed Virgin Mary for a moment while our niece sang a Marian hymn. I recalled all I had gone through in the past in order to arrive at this moment and find true love. I thought I was going to cry as emotion overtook me, but I kept right on dreaming. Thanks be to God, this dream was real. It took a long time to find true love, but now we have been married 6 years, have 3 sons and another on the way. God has granted us the gift of being parents and with the love that we share we have formed an amazing family. Dreams really do come true together with God.

And in celebration of the 6 years we have shared together, I have written another poem reflecting the seasons of Michigan, our current home, and the love we share:

Every day is sunny with you at my side

While we melt with passion

And your eyes are like fire

Just like I always dreamed.

The rain makes me come alive with at my side

While we are drenched in love

And your eyes are full of tenderness

Just like I always dreamed.

The snow makes me come alive with you at my side

While we are frozen in love

And your eyes are pure innocence

Just like I always dreamed.

Your gaze reflects the sky and Lake Michigan all at once,

Because of your intensity, loveliness and beauty

While our love continues to strengthen us

At the rhythm of the waves.

 

Happy Anniversary, my love!

Life’s Wake Up Calls

It was a rough night. I watched the season finale of my favorite historical fiction and was bawling the whole time. How could they do that? How could they bring us through a romance and finally a wedding after 5 seasons and then kill off the main character? It was cruel and unfair. Our favorite hero, our handsome prince was gone. And together the fans go from disbelief, to sadness, to anger, each attempting to manage their own grieving process. Then I take a step back and wonder if I sound absolutely ridiculous. Are these just pregnancy hormones at their finest or have I really become so invested in a TV show? It was as if I was living what they were going through right along with the actors.

I was in a daze and finding it hard to shake the emotion to continue on with real life. My thoughts drifted on in a hazy cloud when suddenly I realized there was another man who died, and this one died for ME. How could I possibly cry and grieve this way over an actor and not over the death of my Lord?? Am I as devoted to Him, as wholeheartedly dedicated in my relationship with Him as I have been with this series? The answer to my own question was a deplorable embarrassment.

This drama has taught me lessons of faithfulness, dedication, and compassion. I notice how the main actress treats her students with such gentleness and understanding and do a self-check. How have I been treating my own kids lately?

My rough night continued with my 5-year-old waking up with a nightmare at 2:00am. In my sleepy stupor I gave him a hug, a few rubs on the back, prayed with him, blessed him and sent him back to bed. But when he came back a second and a third time, still frightened and unable to sleep, my tone hardened and I became frustrated that my precious zzzz’s were being interrupted by my oldest child who should be the last one to wake me up. Where was my motherly love? I recalled my own early years when I suffered greatly from repetitive nightmares for months on end. I was even older than my son is now and my parents still let me sleep on a mattress in their room or nestled in between them in their bed, yet I did not extend the same kindness to my scared little boy.

You never know where your wake-up calls will come from, whether it be a coworker with cancer, the death of a family member, a car accident, a candid conversation with a dear friend or a TV show. But whenever they do appear, I pray I will have the humility and the openness to change, fortified by God’s grace.

 

Beauty

Sometimes beauty takes you by surprise. You would expect to encounter it in an ocean sunset or on a Colorado peak, but not necessarily in the everyday. As winter turns to spring, the drive to work becomes less obscure and more luminous. The sunrise greets me with its glorious colors, kissing high-rises and painting silhouettes out of church spires. Shades of pink and purple and orange give way to a cloudless blue and it takes my breath away. What awe-inspiring beauty!

I suspect I appreciate the earth’s beauty so much because I often fail to see it in myself. As one who has struggled with obesity my whole life, frequently teased because of it as a child and squeamish in front of mirrors and cameras as an adult, I seek it outside of myself.  I love drives through the countryside, trips to the beach, hikes through the woods and nature scenes. I even discovered a series on Netflix called Extraordinary Homes that captures intense beauty in every episode. The owners seek out the most exotic, unconventional, and picturesque locations to build their abodes. Most of them wealthy, but too busy to enjoy life in their everyday atmospheres, desiring an escape.

And perhaps that’s what I am trying to do. Escape. Escape from the reality of my ever growing and ever aging physique. Sometimes I just want to know why. Why do I struggle to find clothes that even fit, while others can shop anywhere and look gorgeous? Why do I want to look away every time I see a picture of myself? Why am I jealous instead of more supportive of those around me who have lost weight?

I recently found myself reminding him of the need for a healthy self-love. “I hope you reach the point one day where you feel you are not just putting up with yourself but that you see yourself as a child of God with true dignity and learn to love yourself.” Whoa! Look who’s talking, lady! Let’s work on practicing what you preach!

I have read books on true beauty, inner beauty, the beauty of God’s children, and they all help for a while, until I fall into a slump again. I begin to believe the Hollywood lie of size 4 beauty. I stare at the “big girls” all around me, compare myself to them and criticize them in my thoughts. “My tummy’s not THAT big,” “I don’t jiggle THAT much,” “My arms aren’t THAT fat” “At least I can WALK around the store and don’t need a motorized cart!” So much ugliness floating around my brain…

And then on days like today, the beauty of the sunrise hits me like a slap across the face, and I am reminded of the Creator of ALL beauty. Only HE could create something so phenomenal it takes your breathe away. And that is precisely why I am beautiful, why we are ALL beautiful, because we are HIS creation. Not because we are a size 4 or a muscle-bound 6’5”, but because He created us and God, by His very nature, only creates beautiful things. When we think we are ugly or anything other than beautiful, we are believing the lies of the evil one, allowing ourselves to be entrapped in his snare.

Each and every one of you is BEAUTIFUL and I hope you will tell those you encounter today just how beautiful they are, cuz I guarantee they need to hear it!