Free Will and my Life Lessons

by Liz Lara

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Every day is filled with life lessons and it is time to share one of my many not-so-perfect life lessons. It is no mystery, I have not posted to my blog in quite some time.  And as you might guess, there is good reason for that.  The latter half of last year, I and my family experienced quite a lot of changes.

As I mentioned before, our kids are older than most other family blogs you read about.  The oldest of the five is 24, and the youngest is 16. As of summer last year, the three eldest boys lived with us, my daughter who is 19, decided she wanted to live with her father in New England for a while, and my 16 year old step-son lives with his mother about 350 miles away in Amarillo, Texas.

Upon returning from our summer vacation, my oldest step-son, who was 20, decided that he too, was going to withdraw from community college here in Fort Worth, move out and return to his hometown of Amarillo.  I’d like to say we were perplexed at this, but we know that our 20 year old son was making some questionable life choices, and even though we tried to advise him of the road he was going down, ultimately he is an adult and we could not stop him.

By mid -August of last year, it was now just I, my husband and my two eldest boys living in our large house.  I personally was starting to feel lost and did not know what to do with myself on a daily basis.  I could have blogged about my life on a regular basis, but because of what I call our “sudden exodus into empty nest syndrome”, I actually felt like a failure and I certainly did not feel like bragging about that.

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I have always had tumultuous feelings about being a homemaker, (I feel this word describes me best. When I think about stay-at-home-moms, I think of those moms in their 20’s, who wear their daily uniform of tight yoga pants and tacky graphic tee shirts with what I can only assume are supposed to be words of wisdom while lugging their kids around to the store, the library or to the park all while having very loud conversations on their smart phones). 

So now I found myself at a crossroads of sort. While I thoroughly enjoy being a homemaker, I felt like the outside world was telling me that I needed to re-enter the working world. After all, what right did I have to not work outside the home when my wonderful, patient, bread – winner, supportive husband has carried the load when I had left corporate and its lucrative paycheck a few years back? Since leaving the work place, my husband will be the first to tell you that I beat myself up with this very subject several times a year, to the point where it stresses both of us out and drives a wedge between us.  The conclusion has always been the same for the past few years; I am happiest at home, taking care of my home and family, no matter how large or small.

However, along came a job offer that seemed to good to pass up.  The money was good, really good, the benefits including two weeks of vacation plus eleven company holidays per year, and the commute was only a mere twenty minutes a day on a piece of highway that rarely saw traffic.  As I scheduled my first interview for the position, I did actually make a list of pros and cons of going back to work, even though my cons outweighed my pros, I decided to move forward and go through the interview process anyway. The job was going to be with a religious, non-profit organization and the thought of working for and with likeminded Christians appealed to me. 

During the first week in September was when I had the first interview and it went well.  After a few days, I got a call back for a second interview, but due to the manager’s vacation, it was not going to be until the following week. 

I spent the next week imagining myself being back to work in a corporate, albeit, nonprofit environment.  I finally had the second interview, and that went really well too, all that was lacking was the CEO’s blessing on filling the open position.  Then began what felt like a long waiting period. What it looked like on their side: was a corporate retreat (three days long), a professional conference (one week long), and a CEO for whom filling the position was not a priority (another two weeks of him pushing it to the back burner). What it looked like on my end:  me going over my pros and cons list almost every day, lying in bed every night debating with myself should I or shouldn’t I go back to work, pacing the house everyday waiting for my phone to ring like a needy single woman waiting for last night’s date to call her to see if he was just as enamored by her as she was with him. I was starting to feel dejected and that I was no longer “hirable.”

On a daily basis, several times a day, I would pray on the conflict that I was undergoing.  About three weeks into this waiting period and watching me go through what can only be described as my “manic-feeling of I need to work” phase, my loving husband had this to say: “You are waiting for God to give you a sign or an answer to your dilemma, however, you have applied to a job, that literally is an institution for God and you have not been offered the position….honey, don’t you think God himself is trying to tell you something?” Those words stuck with me and I had just about resolved the fact that it was not to be, but a few days later, I received an email with an offer letter attached and I thought: “Glory, alleluia, here is my sign!  I got the job.” It only took a month, but I got the job!

So I started my new job, I would be doing payroll for this non-profit, religious organization. I may have not mentioned it before, but I am really not thrilled about my profession as it pertains to working outside the home although I am quite good at it and have my professional certification in it, it really is not my passion.  My work colleagues all seemed very nice, as they do with any job that anyone starts for the first week and for the most part that aspect of the job continued, but you know how it goes, there is always a few bad apples, no matter where you work or what kind of job you are doing.

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I was once again trying to get on a work routine of getting up at 5:30 a.m., out the door by 7:00 and in my work chair by 7:30.  Like most jobs, there was an hour for lunch and my workday ended at 4:30 p.m. I was back at home by 5:00 p.m. each evening at which time I would switch into my panicked “get as much done before I go to bed” mode.  This included a 30 minute power walk (before the sun completely set), get a home cooked dinner on the table, fold a batch or two of laundry while dinner was cooking, package any leftovers, pack my breakfast and lunch for the following work day, clean and scrub the dinner dishes and depending on what I was going to make the following day for dinner, possibly start doing some prep work such as chopping veggies or setting up my slow cooker.  I would finally get to sit and relax each night around 8:30 p.m. and usually start to nod off while watching T.V. with my husband around 9:00, and definitely in bed snoring away by 9:30 p.m. every night.

Like most working couples, weekends of course, were just as busy, trying to check off those items on our to-do-list that could not get done during the week, such as grocery shopping, the house cleaning, taking a dog or two to the groomers, home improvement projects, errands, finding time to be social with friends and family and the most important, trying to find time alone together.

About a month back in the working world, I was exhausted and otherwise quite miserable.  Now that I was starting to become “seasoned” in my new position at work, more responsibility was starting to come my way and even though I was working for a Christian based organization, this atmosphere was not void of corporate politics and the back stabbing loathing that exists everywhere, apparently; and all of this was really disconcerting to me.  I was starting to remember why I had left my previous job a few years back even though I was at the height of my career. I was becoming just as miserable now, as I was years ago and just like back then; I would bring all that misery and unhappiness home when I walked through the door every day.  I was becoming unapproachable at home, as well as starting to feel resentful and anxious all of which was starting to drive a wedge between myself and my husband, and I was barely having any conversations with the kids anymore.

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After discussing it with my husband, who in the most loving way, gave me the “I told you so” speech, I sat down with my boss and told her that even though I felt like I was the right fit for this job; the job was not the right fit for me I proceeded to tell her that I thought it would be unfair to waste of both of our time to try to stick it out for months to see if we couldn’t make it work and maybe I might have a change of heart.  You can imagine my surprise when she told me that she was waiting for me to bring this up because, apparently, I wore my stress and unhappiness almost every day. I agreed to stay at the position until they found a replacement, which I did not mind, since I felt like I was leaving my boss in the lurch.

A few weeks later, right before the Thanksgiving holiday, they had found a replacement for me and I, once again returned home.  Once again, I had some conflicting feelings.  Although, deep within me, I felt like this was the right decision, and at home is where I belong and where I felt the most useful and content, I still suffered some contemplation:  “Did I give myself enough time to adjust to this job and schedule?”  “Was I just a quitter?” “Why couldn’t I just suck it up and stick it out like so many other people do?” 

Then during the holiday season, our family underwent some issues.  My eldest step-son who had decided to quit college and move back to Amarillo only a few short months ago, decided he and his now live-in-girlfriend were moving back to our area of Texas for better job opportunities, even though he had only found a part time job and his girlfriend was not working at all and they were living paycheck to paycheck, against our advice about moving in together and that they should put this plan on the back burner until they were both financially stable, they insisted that they could handle whatever life threw their way (young love is so ignorant…isn’t it?). So during this journey they resided with us for about three weeks (needless to say this was stressful for everyone in the house).  In addition to this, my eldest son had proclaimed that in the upcoming new year, he wanted to move out (finally) but buy his first house as opposed to renting somewhere, he also expressed that he was going to be looking to change jobs in the new year as well and try to go from a retail store associate (that is paid tremendously well) to finding a job in an office environment all while still trying to break into his real passion…voice over acting. 

My second eldest, was just finishing his trade school education of graphic design and he too would be seeking out a new career in the New Year.  This may seem uneventful to most, but my middle child, although extremely creative and talented, is a sensitive introvert with a slight learning disability. So to help him move into a career that showcases his passion, he will need a little hand holding.

Last but not least, my wonderful husband.  In addition to his long time career as a security network operations engineer, he has decided to continue his education and study for his master’s degree in his field, thereby, leaving him less time to be able to help manage our household, which I am not complaining about.  My husband and I support each other completely on our goals, parenting, and education and for the most part any other things we each set our minds to.

Even with all of this that happened to me re-entering the work force and all the issues that continue to unfold under our roof, I still could not help but reflect in prayer with my inner conflict of “should I work…shouldn’t I work?”  Then something happened that changed my way of thinking.

I met up with a very good friend of mine for lunch one day.  I hadn’t seen her since right before I had started working again, and I proceeded to tell her all of what had happened during that time frame, both at work and at home.  I explained to her my reflection and prayer during this time and what my husband had pointed out that during my “waiting process” hearing about the job offer.  Then my very dear friend put it into perspective for me.  She pointed out that even though, I was waiting for signs from God to put me on the path that I thought HE wanted for me, she reminded me that HE has given us his greatest gift of all…”free will”.  So even though HE was showing me signs and reasons I should have not taken the job offer in the first place, I went ahead and utilized my free will and ignored what God was telling me.  Needless to say, even though I had chosen the wrong path initially, the one that God did not want me to go down…I wound up on the right path that HE wanted me on anyway, via a short detour.cross

So now, here we are in the New Year.  I am back to being a full time HOMEMAKER, which I am slowly learning should not have negative connotations, because even though I am approaching middle age and the majority of our kids are young adults and are, for the most part self-sufficient, I am still very much needed and appreciated at home taking care of my house, my husband and family…revolving door and all. This life lesson has taught me, that I am following my true passion and the path that God wants me to be on, at least for now.

Is it Right to Play God?…Sasha’s Story

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By Liz

Is it ever right to play God? I know I am not the only one who has ever been posed with this question. My faith and my religion, tell me NO, it is not ok; however, when it comes to another living creature suffering, what is the right thing to do?

Just recently we had the agonizing task of choosing to put our aging, ailing dog down. Sasha was our first rescue dog and when we got her, she was a year and a half old that was back in 2005. Sasha was a Shiba Inu, a distinct Japanese breed. Shiba Inus are alert dogs that are intelligent with fiery personalities, well tempered and affectionate. Sasha exhibited all of these traits and more.

Like most breeds, Shiba’s are also prone to health issues, such as glaucoma, cataracts, and hip dysplasia. As Sasha aged, we watched our once vibrant, happy and energetic dog start to struggle with age and some health issues. The past two years have been exceptionally bad.

Sasha used to love to go on walks, the first few years we had her, she would accompany me on my endurance walks up to 3 miles; 3 to 4 times a week.  Sasha would also love running around in our then back yard that was on about a ½ acre of land.

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Sasha loved to hunt, and unlike a typical dog’s prey, her penchant was for reptiles; and that yard had plenty of them.  She would spend much time out in the back yard looking for turtles, frogs, lizards and geckos. If she found any, she would pin them down with her paws.   She wouldn’t kill or eat them, she just liked to hunt and trap them.  In fact, you could say that Sasha had refined taste; she was very particular about what she ate. Her favorite treats were gourmet dog cookies, but if we really wanted to spoil her (and occasionally we did) she would indulge on wine infused salami and aged, smoked gouda…the other dogs could not have cared less, they would have been just as happy eating cat turds off of our front lawn.

Sasha was a great family pet, she loved and watched over the family, like great guard dogs do. So about two years ago, when we noticed her walking distance was becoming harder for her to handle, on the walks that she loved so much, we knew she was starting to age and starting to slow down.

Her walks and activity level became shorter and fewer, however, her trips to the vets had increased.  The vet had prescribed her inflammatory and pain pills, low and short doses at first, but over time, those had changed and increased as they were having no effect on her.  About a year ago, Sasha’s whining and crying had started to become noticeable and we knew it was due to the arthritis she was suffering in both her front and back legs. At this time, I personally had to have a full knee replacement, because I could not deal with my own physical pain, so I can imagine what Sasha was feeling. 

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We watched Sasha suffer from arthritis, knee and hip pain as well as cataracts; and over a two year time span, these conditions were becoming increasingly worse. We had now reached a point where watching Sasha stand up, sit down or try to crouch to relieve herself was excruciating for her. Her legs were severely stiff as she would try to walk across each room in our house. We were now taking Sasha to the vet approximately every two weeks not only due to her intolerance of pain, but now also the constant medications were wreaking havoc on her digestive system and stomach.




The final breaking point came at what was to be her was her last trip to the vet. She was suffering from dehydration and our vet prescribed her another round of medication to help her stomach, however, when we would try to administer the doses at home for the recommended upcoming week, Sasha refused. She spent the next day or two refusing her medications, even after my husband did his best by getting down on the floor and trying various methods and trickery to get her to take it, but Sasha was to smart and stubborn to take it. Heartbreaking as it was, we could see in her eyes and in her face…she had, had enough.

Failing after many attempts of trying to get her to take her medications, and now she had also stopped eating and drinking, my husband and I knew the moment and the decision that we never wanted to make was upon us. With many tears and heavy hearts, we chose to put our beloved Sasha down.

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We had chosen a vet that performed pet euthanasia at home.  While at first, we were not entirely sold on this concept as it was a little out of our comfort zone, we came to realize that not only would this be more comforting to Sasha, as she would not have to have her final impressions of this world, in a cold, sterile vets office but it would also help bring closure for our other 3 dogs. Them being able to see and smell her body, they would not constantly be wondering…”Where did she go?” and “When is she coming home?”

As heartbreaking and gut wrenching as this process was, I would like to think that Sasha would suffer from physical pain no more and that she was assured that we loved her and that we were present in her final moments.  As both my husband and I, feverously tried to hold back tears of grief, we hugged her and told her we loved her and that we would see her again one day and expected to see her running and playing in all her youthful doggy glory as she once was. My husband sat on the floor at her bedside, kissing and stroking her head as she peacefully transitioned to The Rainbow Bridge.

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When it was over and the vet took her away to be cremated, both my husband and I were consumed with regret and wanted nothing more than to have our Sasha back.  This feeling of grief and pain went on for days and had me questioning what kind of a Catholic am I?  A bad one if you would have asked me, because this act of “playing God” went against everything that I had known and believed in, but on the other hand, I would remember witnessing the pain Sasha would endure, getting up from her bed to be let outside, the constant crying; and what I can only describe as “diesel truck engine” like panting due to her pain. What kind of Catholic would I have been to let her suffer? The answer to these questions, I will never know, until God himself tells me on my judgment day.  Until then, I will live with the both the guilt of taking another life and the acceptance that I have relieved another soul from physical suffering.

 


Affording to “Pay it Forward”

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By Liz

My life and circumstances have not always been easy and like most people I have had struggles and hardships at different times in my life.  However, whether the strain was emotional, physical or financial I have always known that I have been blessed.

You see, like you, I have been chosen to be a child of God and He has given me the greatest gift of all: free will to choose him as my God, my Father and my Creator, so I have always felt the desire to give back and to help others, after all, it is what we were created to do.

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But what happens if you feel like you can’t afford to give back?  Society has perpetuated a notion that, “giving back” has a monetary value to it and only by this avenue alone will we make a difference. This is entirely untrue for both the giver and the receiver. Giving of one’s time is just as valuable as money, if not more so.

We have all seen and heard ads for the conglomerate types of charities asking you to give financially; tugging on our heart strings making us feel guilty if we don’t whip out your checkbook at that very moment to help their cause. Now, I am not trying to bash some of these worthwhile causes, many of them do much needed research and work and many use the funds wisely and efficiently, however some larger and well known charities are operating on a “for profit” budget, so a large portion of our dollars that we donate go to paying their sometimes hefty salaries and go to throwing large, garish parties to bring in even more profit.

When I left the corporate world, it didn’t take me long to feel the restlessness of extra time on my hands. Don’t get me wrong, managing a household of 7 people and 4 dogs takes up a lot of time, but unlike before, when I did not have the time to donate physical time for a cause or charity that was close to my heart, I now found myself in a position to do so.

The question before me was: with so many needs for local volunteers and charities how did I want to make a difference? I started to investigate some of my local organizations that were looking for help. I had approached this as if I were researching a large purchase for my home.  I felt deep down, if the cause did not resonate with me, then both myself and the organization were not going to benefit.




I was not having any luck with my search, until one day after Sunday services I mentioned to my priest my dilemma. He actually pointed me in the direction of one of the community’s food pantries. Later that week, I gave them a call and they were more than happy to have me come and help out. They had told me that if I wanted, I could volunteer a few times to see if it was going to be something I would want to continue doing before they added me to their permanent roster.  I went and volunteered for an afternoon shift of 3 hours of work in the back room of the pantry, packing up food for families in need. My fellow team mates were in their retirement years and older, and at first I thought this was not going to be a good match for me, but when the 3 hours were over, I had really enjoyed the work and the people enough to come back and do it again. I am happy to say, that I have been volunteering at this food pantry with the same great group of folks a few times a month for the past 3 years and I genuinely   look forward to each time it is my turn to help out.

So while we as a family do tithe to our church on a weekly basis, we have also given back in ways that may not be considered when thinking of charity.  Some examples of how we and you can give back without making a huge impact on your wallet and making the “for profit” charity organizations wealthier:

1.We have donated clothes, household items and furniture to Goodwill or Salvation Army that we no longer want or use.

2.We have donated old blankets, towels and a bag or two of cat or dog food to the local animal shelter.

3.We have purchased an extra bag or two of groceries for some of our neighbors that had fallen on hard financial times.

4.We have made extra batches of food or cookies for family, friends and neighbors that have had suffered a loss.

homeless5.We have collected items such as toiletries, socks and blankets over a year’s time and donated them all in one shot to the local shelters.

6.We have volunteered at charity walks and 5-K runs as staff members that pass out water or food, help people sign in and other organizational tasks.

7.We have given bottles of water, cups of coffee and bought lunches for people who were in obvious need as we passed them while we are out and about.

8.We have helped seniors play bingo at a retirement home.

9.We have read to children at “story times” at libraries and schools.

10.We have packed backpacks full of supplies for kids going back to school.

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Some have argued that giving back is purely a selfish act, that it makes one feel better about oneself or that they are waiting for a glorified pat on the back. Giving back is rewarding, I believe that Jesus gave of himself to us, over and over again and I have come to realize I have been blessed in so many aspects in my life; whether it be my health, my family and friends, the comforts and necessities that help me sustain my life, my intelligence, my patience and compassion, and the list of blessings and gifts that have been bestowed upon me goes on and on.  I am grateful and happy that I have the luxury to “give back” and I gladly look forward to doing and giving more of my time and efforts for many years to come.