Category Archives: thanksgiving

There’s No Room for Envy in a Grateful Heart

The house was buzzing with the usual school morning routines. There was foot traffic up and down the stairs and hallway, dishes being banged and stacked, and water pouring through the faucets. The dog was rubbing against every available leg and a rooster was crowing in the distance as the clock clicked passed 8:30.


In an attempt to corral my students to their assigned seats around the table, I grabbed my wooden beads and began that familiar recitation of the rosary. Like the Pied Piper’s entrancing tune, my rhythmic words drew my children forth one by one.

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Picturing Parties, Peacocks & the Perfect Beach Day

Just another week in Brelinskyville I say. And by that I mean: traveling to celebrate our first graduate, hosting 86 of the world’s most awesome party guests, a stray peacock, field tripping to the beach and an extra blessing to count.

1. I’ve already gushed HERE over my very first home school graduate, but now I’ve actually got the pictures to document the achievement. We opted to enroll our high schoolers in Seton Home Study, so my son was eligible to participate in a graduation ceremony in VA. What a thrill to be among 100+ other graduates (from all over the country and one who came all the way from the Philippines) and those were just the graduates who chose to attend the event. 

I can’t say enough about how well Seton met our needs as a family and prepared my son for his future as an intelligent adult and a Catholic capable of defending his beliefs. Quite frankly, while I knew I would stay the course throughout my son’s high school education, I was somewhat intimidated and overwhelmed at the prospect of having to calculate his credits, double-check his requirements and create his transcript. Enter Seton where they do all of that and more. Four years and three high schoolers later, I am satisfied that we made the right choice and the tuition is worth every penny.

Class of 2014

Jude’s First Holy Communion
Sebastian’s Confirmation

2. When we throw a party, we like to really throw a party! Years ago we decided to host big, all-inclusive, family-sized shin-digs. When the oldest two were little I did the kids’ only, themed birthday parties (think Veggie Tale donuts, pirate treasure hunts and paper mache pinatas) complete with preplanned games and a gift unwrapping break. However, as the size of our brood increased that plan seemed less than ideal and honestly kind of un-fun for the adults and siblings. I mean hosting 8 birthday soirees would book up our whole summer and fall (since our bdays span from March to September). So the big bash idea sprang up and we’ve been sticking with it ever since. Now the kids entertain one another (no need for me to orchestrate games) and no one is left out since there is a least one (or six) somebodies your age to hang with. Moms and dads are then free to enjoy the company of other adults since the kiddos are so busy together. Of course, being southerners and all potluck is the way to go. This cuts down on expense and allows friends to share something rather than feeling obliged to bring gifts.  

This go around we and 76 of our friends and family spent the afternoon together celebrating this year’s sacraments and milestones (with a confirmation, communion and graduation in one spring there was oh so much to celebrate).

Kevin (named in honor of the bird from UP)

3.  Okay, so normal people might happen across a stray kitty or puppy, right? But here in B-ville we find ourselves adopted by a stray peacock! No, really, a peacock literally flew into our field of fowl and he’s decided (against our best efforts to discourage him) to make this home. Occasionally, he perches on our high roof, but most of the time he sits near the hens that he is trying so very hard to impress. Quite comical, when the hens walk passed he fans out his tail feathers and shakes them ever so purposefully whilst turning slowly so as to remain within 

the hen’s line of sight. The chickens (like innocent, college girls in a frat house) don’t quite understand his oh-so-subtle flirtations (or they’re just not interested in inter-species romance). If the girls here aren’t diggin’ him, I guess he’s decided the food makes up for it. Anyone got any peacock tips?

Mr. B and the sea

4. How is it that a whole year has slipped by since I carried my big bellied self to the beach? Well, it has and it was high time to soak in some RR on the coast of NC. A more perfect beach day we couldn’t have prayed for (okay well the freezing cold water may have been a deterent for some of us but as you can see from the pics the kids numbed up fast enough to enjoy the chilly waters) as the temperature was warm but not sweat-worthy, the life guards were on duty, the parking lot was nearly empty and the sky maintained its Carolina blue.

We barely even bothered with the radio as the soothing sounds of the waves were enough to captivate our attention. God also graced us with just enough wind to lift our kite, but not so much as to require us to wrap up in towels for comfort. The coast takes a bit of navigating for our crew since we live a few hours from it, but as always the day trip gave us that little timeout we all needed.

5. Putting this post together, I have to admit my shame in adding this last thought. Just across the way from our favorite beach spot is the Bodie Island lighthouse, so this trip we decided to check it out (not sure why we hadn’t in the past). Happy to have arrived an hour before its closing, we filed out of the van and began snapping pictures. A tour guide was about to usher in a new group and she advised that we’d need to purchase tickets inside to join the next grouping. Unfortunately, once inside we realized the pricing was too far outside of our tight budget, so we had to settle for looking at the curator’s picture book of the lighthouse interior. 

Glad for the portrait view, I was internally bemoaning. Our budget is more often than not tight, but I hate saying no again and again. I wanted to say, “Yes. We’ll take ten tickets!” I wanted my kids to race up the spiral staircase, to peer out from the top, to imprint a lasting memory, but thoughtful planning dictated that we needed to forgo this expense as our traveling is not yet complete for the summer. 

How silly I feel now for my ingratitude as I detail the abundance of blessings that have been poured forth these last few weeks. So what that we missed the spiral stairs in that black and white structure we’ve witnessed sacraments, welcomed loved ones, met new friends, experienced unfamiliar settings and stored up an ample cache of mental souvenirs. 

Once again, this domestic church I call home succeeds in raising my eyes upward.

The Fall, An Accident Inspires Gratitude

Doing the baby jig at the rear of the adoration chapel, I glanced down at the book of thanksgiving. Perusing the list of gratis for health and healing, family and friends, my eyes were drawn to two lines in particular. The familiar scratching of P. I. O. called my attention. Truly this wasn’t the first time my nine month old’s name has been sprawled in childish print in that book, but on this day he was mentioned in two consecutive entries.

Thank you God for protecting Pio.

For keeping Pio safe.
Instantly I jumped back in time to that late morning less than two weeks ago.
Crouching on the family room floor next to the coffee table while attempting to finish grading a lesson, my second eldest son had me stop and proofread his assignment. With my hands baby-free for a few minutes I felt like I was actually making headway in keeping the school day on track so this interruption wasn’t troublesome. It was a good day.
Off in the distance a commotion erupted which I was fully ready to ignore, figuring it was the umpteenth “he did-she did” of the morning. But my son leaped up like a guard dog that’s caught whiff of danger and my internal radar said to follow. The next minute (which was really more like ten seconds) felt like a slow motion scene as my brain tried to clue in to what was happening. Five steps in, I watched that son break into a sprint as he flung the dog/baby gate open. Close behind him, my own movements felt less conscious and more reflexive.
Then my ears registered the words, “THE BABY.” My body stiffened and my head starting spinning like a twister as I instinctively prepared.
My concern-faced,7 year old son rushed at me and thrust the crying infant into my arms, as he explained that the baby had fallen down our basement stairs. Nausea rose up as I scanned little Pio from head to toe. Running my fingers over his hard skull to feel for lumps, I stared into his dark brown eyes to be sure he was fully coherent. Bending and rubbing chubby limbs, I tried to remember not to overlook any part of him.
The kids were talking rapidly, questioning one another. Fear was palpable.
Sweet Pio was simply happy to be in his usual spot, my arms, and so his crying ended quickly. My jarred nerves were not so rapidly soothed as I spent the remainder of the day on watch trying to decide whether a nap was indeed a routine nap or the signal of a concussion.
By the grace of God alone I managed to remain calm in front of the children although internally I was anything but. I was angry and scared, worried and fearful. However, I knew that the children were watching me for a reaction and it would set the tone for theirs. The child who had accidentally allowed the baby to get out of sight was gripped by remorse and anxiety and there was a delicate balance to be struck to prevent the siblings from laying overwhelming blame.
Once the story unfolded and the pieces were fit together it appeared that the baby had only slipped part of the way down the actual stairs before free falling over the open side of the staircase straight to the hard basement floor. Thankfully, he hit a stack of plastic crates which probably slowed his descent. Standing at the bottom of the steps trying to play detective, I had a distinct sense that Padre Pio had been a party to this event. Hard to explain, I just knew he had been there.
Although I’ve offered abundant thanks and praise for the blessing of my sweet youngest, that day reminded me again that life is a precious, fragile gift. Without any advanced notice, everything can be rearranged. For as easily as joy can fill us up, just as swiftly sorrow can rush in. Like the thief that comes in the night, a moment can steal away our well-crafted plans.
Reading those scribbled words in the chapel book, it seemed clear that the gravity of the situation had not been lost on even my young ones. Our family life has exposed them to much of the realities of life and clearly the lessons are sinking in. How beautiful it is too, that even though they fuss and fight, they are able to recognize in small ways that we must be thankful in the moment to moment of life together.
Standing there in the chapel, I looked around at those 8 bowed heads and counted my blessings by name. And I thought, this is the good stuff of family life. The reality checks that keep us grounded. The events which drop us to our knees in petition. The gifts which swell our hearts with gratitude. Countless opportunities to practice patience and forgiveness. And the chance to turn our dirty sock-strewn, toy-riddled, noisy home into a domestic church within which precious souls are formed and made ready.

Plugged In On A Thanksgiving Pilgrimage

The kids and I just returned from a pilgrimage and visit with long distance loved ones. We started out slow with a stop halfway between so we could attend Holy Mass at the Basilica. The first four hours trapped in a van with six of my dear offspring was relatively easy. Zombified by the new movie screens, stuffed with pretzels and beef jerky with juice boxes in hand, they managed to keep the number of “He’s kicking my seat”, “She’s won’t let me watch my movie”-s to a minimum.
Navigating through the busy streets of Washington, DC under a dripping sky was manageable because in addition to my faithful (mostly) GPS my husband took the lead in our other, little car. He was only accompanying us to this halfway point. A quick turn into the parking lot and a harried dash into the lower level of the church, we made it to our first destination before Mass commenced or bladders gave out under pressure.
My second son spied the confession schedule and relayed that we had just enough time to cleanse our souls before racing into the elevator. I’d like to say I had time to unwind, relax and thoroughly examine my conscience, but as is more often the case I perused the exam sheet with one eye while keeping the other on my youngest sons (who were trying hard to contain their unending streams of energy). 
Green light time, I took my turn in the confessional; however, the attempt to kneel behind the curtain quickly went bust when the infant in my arms took to squirming. Afraid my confessor might fear an exorcism was taking place, I opted for the face to face chair so that he could at least understand the reason for the grunts and constant shifting.
Sins relinquished, we (baby and me) made our way to the communal kneeler in the center of the chapel for penance. Awkwardly, balancing myself and my tiny partner on that narrow strip of wood challenged my muscles and my mind. Add to that, the five year old who decided to nuzzle up along side of us and one might wonder if I would have been better off saving my prayers of penance for later.
Cleansed, the crew of us followed the stroller quickly through the marble hallways to the elevator. Crammed into the metal box for a minute or two, we prepared ourselves to participate in the Eucharistic celebration that awaited above. A welcomed renewal, Holy Mass recharged my battery (even if the pews were somehow narrower than usual leaving me a twelve inch span of space in which to remain attentively still while nursing the baby under my wrap as the five year old continued to snuggle against my right side.)

Arriving at our one night accommodations, we were happy to traipse our belongings from the van to the hotel suite. Thank goodness for those luggage trolleys that are just big enough to contain 7 backpacks, 6 sleeping bags, 2 or 3 miscellaneous bags, one suitcase and a pack-and-play. After a meal of fast food, our family (minus our traveling eldest son) sang happy birthday to our newly twelve year old daughter as she cut the cake that daddy had smuggled in his car.

Only about a dozen admonitions of “You can’t jump on the beds”, “Stop throwing pillows” and “Shhh don’t talk so loudly” were required (which I chalk up as relative success in the arena of harnessing little kid energy for so long). By the time ten o’clock rolled around, my eyes decided it was time to close up shop and I didn’t have the desire to fight them. So much for romantic moments with my better half during this getaway, we’d have to wait until some other distant day when we might not be sharing our sleeping quarters with nocturnal offspring (maybe in another eighteen years or so).
Morning arrives all too soon when nights are spent satisfying a nursling, but we had a journey before us which we were eager to continue. Breakfast and gas fueled us for the next four hour leg as we kissed daddy goodbye and pointed our compass northward.
Another few rounds of “His feet are on my head” and “She’s picking all the movies” until our van rolled up in front of grandma’s. Doors opened, our excitement spilled out along with our bodies and belongings. Grandma’s house is actually a four family apartment building that also houses great-grandma, a great-aunt, an aunt and a cousin so our arrival meant an instant family reunion.
Our next few days included more birthday celebrating, introductions to Pio Gerard and lots of time engaged in good conversations. Ninety year old, great-grandma (affectionately known as GG) lured my 7 and 5 year olds into disarming (their Nerf guns) and playing a few rounds of Go-Fish. A triumph because the two of them managed to be still, focused and polite (as opposed to wrestling, bouncing and bickering) allowing GG to actually enjoy some one on one time with them.

The youngest five and I made a thanksgiving stop at the local shrine of St. Gerard (all the more exciting considering we managed to get locked in a courtyard requiring rescue by a couple of funeral directors!) Then, I convinced my brood to belt themselves back in for yet another long ride to St. Padre Pio’s shrine the day after his feast day. Our arrival was divinely timed as we managed to participate in some of the prayer hour in the chapel and receive a blessing with Padre’s glove and holy oil.

Clear, crisp, fall weather invited us and some old friends, who’d met us there, to lunch together outside. Wide open fields offered the perfect balance to so many hours cooped up in the apartment and the van. The kids ran and shouted, discovered cattails and pitched black walnut pods before we paused to light two candles for the petitions we’d carried on this pilgrimage. We finished off this thanksgiving stop with a trip to the ice cream shop where we met up with my college roommate, whom I hadn’t seen in many years.
One last day of family time and fun followed before we had to reload all of our bags and bedding. All in all, we and the apartment building made it through our invasion fairly unscathed (only one lamp met its unfortunate end). GG’s peace wasn’t too disturbed (luckily her hearing aids didn’t detect the loud noises banging around above her ceiling.) And the majority of tears shed were the result of having to say goodbye so soon.
Cousins kissed and a decent night of sleep had, I slid behind the steering wheel once more and set our GPS for Brelinskyville. Two cups of coffee, nine bottles of water, two pit stops, numerous “He’s touching me” “She’s not sharing”-s, 20 minutes of crying (the baby, not me) and 8 ½ hours later, the tires came to a screeching halt (okay maybe the screeching wasn’t actually from the tires) in our driveway.
My intention for this trip was well thought out. I planned to make a sincere pilgrimage of thanksgiving, to revisit the shrines we’d discovered last April when I was praying intently for baby’s safe arrival. Having been months since our last meeting, I wanted to reconnect with our loved ones, to allow my children to create new memories of these wonderful people they belong to. Little did I realize that my thanksgivings would increase ten-fold along the way inspiring me to ever greater gratitude for a life so richly blessed.
During that confession at the Basilica, Father used a simple prop to instruct me. Pointing to the lamp on the table beside him, he reminded me that it needed electrical energy in order to light up the room. Before he’d flipped the switch enabling power to surge down the cord, the small space had been in complete darkness. God, he said, was the energy source I needed and by plugging into Him, I am able to transmit His patience, His love, His mercy, His charity… (all those things I struggle with)
Traveling with my kids, I discovered my family functions as my cord. Without them, I’m prone to more self-interest. Having to tend to the immediate needs of baby requires patience and immediate attentiveness. Monitoring those speed demons I call sons demands discipline (on my part and theirs) and diligence. Connecting with my teens leads me let go and honor their individuality. With eyes upon me at all times my actions and words set an example whether or not I want them to. Fulfilling my marriage covenant compels me to be considerate and tender.
What a very different journey this would have been if I’d been unplugged and steering the roadway alone. How truly thankful I am that’s not the case. 


Announcing Pio Gerard’s arrival

Eighteen years ago this month, July 25th 1995, our firstborn son entered the world only to return home on August 21st. His brief life taught us the value of precious time and inspired our openness to life, but as the years passed and the babies kept coming, we began to take for granted that life was a given.

When I miscarried our first sweet little one in between our two youngest, I chalked it up to the inevitable reality of numbers. Which is not to say, I didn’t miss that sweet little soul who passed unseen through me.

 But then life turned upside down in July of 2010 when we lost a son in the second trimester. Then another sweet soul passed unseen on All Souls’ Day and another son entered eternal rest in my womb, again in the second trimester, the follow June of 2011. Finally, those five lovely souls were joined by another at Thanksgiving time.

I share all that only so that I can better express my sincere gratitude for this newest blessing of life in our family.

 After so many losses, it would have been easy to give into the temptation to despair. It would have been reasonable to have recourse to the infertile times only, so as not to risk further heartache. But God’s Will called us to surrender and to trust all the more.

How many prayers I’ve offered and intercessions I’ve implored, I cannot begin to count. Friends and family wrapped us in their petitions. Padre Pio’s oil was a regular anointing vehicle for crossing my belly and St. Gerard’s cloth spent nights pressed against my expanding skin. And where would I be without my Blessed Mother’s love and support. Truly it felt like this life was guarded by the communion of saints.

Expected to arrive for the Feast of the Transfiguration, our blessing chose instead to make his way into the wide world two and a half weeks early.

Precious Pio Gerard Brelinsky was delivered at home on Saturday, July 20th, 2013 at 3:09am. How fitting that he should come during the hour of mercy. For so great was God’s love and mercy that He answered our prayers in the form of a perfect child, a son.

Every life is sacred and every child
has a purpose in this world which cannot be fulfilled by any other. Honored am I to be entrusted with the privilege of preparing these eight living souls for the Kingdom of their Father. What more noble vocation could I have been called to?

My heart beats with genuine appreciation and thanksgiving for every opportunity for sanctification that God has allowed me, whether it be in joy or in suffering. Praise be to Him from Whom all blessings flow!

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall, Employing Some Far-Sightedness: Stopping My Own Body Shaming

this body was made to carry life

Standing in front of my bathroom mirror taking note of my late pregnancy body, I sigh. At the end of my maternity fashion choices, I find myself frustrated and disappointed when those wide-banded shorts won’t make their way over my protruding abdomen. Belly button gone, a varicose vein bulges in a twisted pathway the full course of my left leg. Leaning in closer, I spy the gray hairs that refuse to be disguised and the red blood vessel that tattoos my face.

Still staring at my myriad imperfections, it hits me that I’ve made this same self-deprecating evaluation before. Throughout most of these last seven and a half months of pregnancy, I’ve been unsatisfied with my body. Oh sure, I’ve smiled and said thank you to the compliments from friends, but all along internally balking. They were just being polite, of course. What’s really beautiful or glowing about swollen, rounding and stretched out body parts?
Now it occurs to me that my persistent dissatisfaction might really be a sign of ingratitude. Do I really believe that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit? If I do, how can I abuse the facade God gave me? If I am made in the image of my Creator, how can I spend so much time grumbling over His portrayal?
One doesn’t have to look far to see where I’ve developed these distorted notions of beauty. Flip the pages of a modern woman’s magazine and you’ll find perfectly airbrushed, sleek bodies scantily clad in size-two frocks balancing on stiletto heels. Even in the average ob/gyn’s office you’ll likely find pictures of fresh-faced mothers with tight baby bumps that will never expand (by choice or force) more than twice. 
Hollywood seems a bit more interested in motherly tummies as of late, but alas the praise is generally reserved for cute little bumps. And the greater achievement is highlighted later on when Star Mama flaunts her return to pre-prego size just six weeks postpartum.

It certainly doesn’t help when well-meaning allies casually question whether I might be carrying twins or, oh so charitably, equate my size to that of a “house.”

With nips and tucks, botox and Spanx, the female form is cast and there’s no room on the red carpet for a Botticelli girl. There’s a cream, treatment, procedure or prescription guaranteed to improve your odds of attaining post-Renaissance perfection. And there’s contraception to insure our fertility doesn’t leave us vulnerable to too many motherly expansions.
Blessed with two lovely daughters, I must reconsider my personal evaluation lest they adopt my lowly opinions of physical maternity. Truth be told, when in the company of other women, I’m inspired by their beauty. The difference is that I see them, the “whole” them not some deconstructed parts, and they are each and every one beautiful. So, too, I want my children to see, themselves and others, with genuine clarity not through the cloudy lens of our sterile, sexualized culture.
Taking another look, a deeper view, I consider those gray hairs represent my years of experience and the wisdom accumulated during a life well-lived. My blood vessel tattoo reminds me of my first home birth when after 25 hours I pushed my sweet son, Jude, into the wide world. The lines around my eyes came from so many smiles erupting at the sight of my children’s achievements. Rounded hips have made ample resting places for transporting toddlers.
My sagging breasts invoke memories of hours spent gazing down at little ones as they satiated their hunger. Well-worn tummy muscles provide a safe and comfy home for growing life. And that lost belly button was sacrificed in trade for the joy of watching tiny parts stretch and kick from my inside out. Stretch marks are the badge of my vocation and swollen varicose veins signify my body’s task of providing for two.
So much more than these visual parts, I am a woman, a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister and a friend. I’m a volunteer, a teacher, a writer and a helpmate. Every appendage and organ serves a purpose, like the architecture of a temple, but what use is a temple if it stands as an empty facade? The Holy Spirit has work to accomplish, so this temple of mine was never meant to remain pristine.
Indeed there is value in accentuating the positives and nurturing a healthy, strong body, but wishing away the marks of time is pointless. If God made this body, then this body is good. So, from now on when I pass a mirror, I am going to try my best to step back and employ some far-sightedness. Vanity may be a sin, but right perspective has the potential to inspire appreciation for the gift of this temple that I call me.

Thankful Thursday

Our school year ended, we are on break so the children and I made it to daily Mass this morning.  The first reading from Exodus reminded us of the importance of intercessory prayer.  

Moses dared to plead with God, to save the hard-hearted people from His wrath.  The people, who had chosen to worship a golden calf, deserved God’s punishment, but Moses stood before the Almighty and argued in their defense.  Imagine the picture of a man, Moses, having the nerve to stand before God and ask Him to hold back His mighty arm even though the people had once again betrayed their loving Father.  And what did our Father do?  He heard Moses’ intercessory prayer and He answered in the affirmative, He spared the people.  

My list of prayer needs is often long indeed as I try to recall everyone whom I’ve promised to lift up, but equally long could be my list of thanksgiving.  How often do we remember to ask, but do we just as often remember to thank our Good God?  

At the recent retreat I attended, we were given a notebook and challenged to list 1000 prayers of thanksgiving, what a brilliant endeavor.  So, rather than jot my thanks in a notebook that’s sure to end up collecting dust somewhere, I thought I’d make Thursdays my day of thanksgiving.  Hopefully, my list will inspire you to create your own or to just remember to stop and count your blessings for the day, week or month.

Dearest Heavenly Father, thank you for
1.  the opportunity to celebrate Mass this morning
2. the time of fellowship with friends
3. receiving You in the Eucharist
4. having a peaceful hour adoring you this evening
5. healthy kids
6. a loving husband
7. money to pay a bill
8. a working van
9. heat
10. the feeling of my 4yo’s head resting against me while he napped
11. the cast my friend was finally able to get put on her broken ankle
12. the money to pay the midwife
13. feeling the baby move inside of me
14. that I am able to move freely
15. that I feel able to pray
16. for (yummy) food on our table
17. that I was able to treat the kids to ice cream
18. for clean sheets
19. for my new contacts and the ability to see
20. for the ability to chat with my friend, who lives several states away, whenever I need to     

What are you thankful for?  Tell your Father, lavish Him with praise and thanksgiving because all good things come from His hand.  Thank Him also for the crosses which He uses to strengthen you and draw you closer to Himself.  Tell others and inspire a sense of awareness and gratitude.

St. Peter Julian Eymard teaches, “Let God bless the body with health or afflict it with sickness, let Him place it in this or that country, in the circumstances of shelter, of occupation, of food, or of society in which it pleases Him; it is all one to the soul.  One word makes everything acceptable, ‘God wants it; it is God’s good pleasure.”  Thank Him for everything!