Perfectly us, four increases to five!

Today my family expands! ZachKarmen
Our son, Zachary is marrying Karmen!
The joy and love we feel is real…strong…and true.

As parents we have so many hopes, dreams, and desires for our children, yet ultimately the most important one is; we want them to be truly happy and live faith-filled lives. Both our children, Jaclyn and Zachary, have found joy in life with their careers and friends. Now to watch Zach and Karmen grow individually and as a couple these past two years, has been a true blessing for our family.

Our family of four is a typical close, in your business (sometimes), Italian family. We love passionately, care deeply and have been known to have arguments occasionally (infrequently now, but those teen years…Yikes!). We are far from perfect, but we are perfectly us.

I wonder if we our family was a shock to kind, calm, and quiet Karmen, who’s family life and culture is different. Which is true for each one of us comes from a unique and special family. Each of us bring with us a lot of family “stuff”, it makes us who we are. Melding their new lives together, I trust the Lord to  guide Zach and Karmen, to create their own ‘perfectly theirs’ family.

I knew Zachary’s heart was taken the first time I met Karmen. We met Zachary and Karmen at the Museum of Science and Industry the day after Thanksgiving 2013. Watching Zach talk with her, hold her hand, and treat her like the incredible woman she is…was it.

I love Zachary with her. He was comfortable, confident and loving…he was completely himself. I love who Zach is with Karmen, true to himself.

Then in June of 2014 in Venice, Italy on our family vacation Zach talked non-stop about why he loved her and how he missed seeing her. He was head over heels in love, I was no longer the most important woman in my baby’s heart and I was so happy to share his heart for this reason. Seeing how happy he was made this transition much less painful, because you see, he is my baby…the one I held when he was sick or hurting. Yet, now I see the man that the Lord created and am so grateful He allowed me to be part of Zach’s life.

So…
As they begin their marriage, I have to reflect on a life of marriage and the graces received (and lessons learned) through my 32 years and 2 children with my husband, Kevin. This will not be and cannot be a comprehensive guide to marriage, just my reflections as thoughts come to me.

Begin each day with a prayer of praise for all that you have been blessed with.
Put each other before yourself in life, honor and cherish every breath together.
Never lose yourself, be individuals who respect each other.
Always hold hands and snuggle all the time, especially during movies.
Share dinner together, even if it happens to be leftovers or cereal.
Take time to spend alone together.
Make birthdays and your anniversary special each year.
Listen more than you talk.
Forgive easily, especially when it is not easy.
Cheer each other in good times and cling to each other in storms.
Look for rainbows and stop to watch sunsets.
Make financial decisions together and never hide purchases from each other.
The mountains are calling you, spend time breathing in the clean, pure air of God’s beauty.
Stay close to family, they are your biggest supporters and loyal confidants.
Remember you are joined and entwined together as three cords, keeping God in the center will keep you strong.
Pray each night for each other and with each other.
Love always.

All good heart-felt advice from me is solid, I still giggle at my sister Toni’s great marriage advice of “always fight naked and no one will ever run out of the house.”

And know that all our family looking down upon us are smiling and guiding you…and know deep in your hearts that Kevin and I pray for you both and your union.

Welcome to this crazy, passionate, loving family Karmen…we love you!

#KarmenandZach
#ZachandKarmen
#marriage #love #happiness

Grace embraced through the young, pure love and happiness of this day as we welcome Karmen to our family through the Sacrament of Matrimony.
Love bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things, love never fails   1 Cor 13:7

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The Priority of Faith

“It was revealed this week that, for the first time in its history, Harvard University, which had been founded for religious purposes … has admitted a freshman class in which atheists and agnostics outnumber professed Christians and Jews.”

Be Brace

Did that make you pause and read it again? Did it make you sad, mad or upset? I had all those emotions when I read it for the first time.

This statement has been heavily weighing on my heart since I read it on Thursday, September 18th in an article by Bishop Robert Barron, Auxiliary of Los Angeles. Incoming freshman, not graduating seniors from college. Incoming freshman, those sons and daughter that are leaving our homes for the first time to spread their wings as young adults. Incoming freshman, fresh from our homes where they should have received a foundation of faith.

I’m sure the rest of Bishop’s article was also informative and enlightening, but I still can’t get past the first sentence. Every day since September 18th, when I read those words, I ask myself, what can I do better. I have worked in Faith Formation for 14 years, these atheists and agnostics could have been in homes of families I ministered too. This is not a Catholic thing, it’s a faith thing…or a lack of faith thing.

I have to be part of the solution. I have to help parents provide the tools to foster faith. No matter how I plan and execute faith formation, the 30 hours a year I see the children is not enough to form their faith. As parents we have to model and mentor. We have to set rituals and traditions. We work hard to form our children’s social and moral characteristics. We, together, need to mold their souls. Those souls are yearning for God, where they belong!

Our days of forming our children pass quickly. They grow, it seems, over night. We blink and they are moving out and leaving us, which causes parents to think of what did we not pass on to them.

Faith…at least basic understanding of the Golden Rule, “do unto others they way you want them to do unto you” if practiced daily shows children the Golden Rule in action. We need to bring God into our homes and into our daily lives. No…let me correct that. God is already in our homes and daily lives. We need to open our hearts and recognize His work in our lives. He wants us to know Him and He wants to be in relationship with us.

How do we change that statistic?
How do we take responsibility for making the world a more peaceful place?
How do we instill in our children that God, Allah, I Am, Yahweh, whatever your tradition calls Him, freely give us LOVE?

First we can pray!
I have seen the power of prayer in my own life and in my work. Prayer makes a difference! Any type of prayer and any time for prayer works…just pray.

We can live as examples. Living our lives with our brothers and sisters in peace, compassion, and mercy shows our youth how they should live.

Have a missionary heart. As we encounter people on the streets, in restaurants, at work and in our own neighborhood, share the joy of faith with them. Reach out to those in need and give of your time, give of your talents, and give of your treasure, you will never regret a moment you spent helping others.

Love. Love is the foundation for everything. Share Love. Speak of Love. Show Love. Be Love. priority

I created ways to spread the Love of Christ and promote faith online. Check out my social avenues:
https://www.facebook.com/sjcyc
https://twitter.com/youthsjc

“Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” 1 Corinthians 16:13

I see God’s grace and mission for me…to help others, especially the families I minister to, to develop a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.

A Year of Thriving

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My mom, brothers and sisters…Love you all!

August 8, 2013 – Last treatment
of the targeted chemotherapy, Herceptin.

August 8, 2014 – A year free of treatments- JOY. A year free of needle pokes and IV bags-PEACE. A year of hair growth and personal growth-LOVE. A year filled with love of family and friends-KINDNESS. A year filled with sunshine blinding my cloudy days because I wake up every morning-GOODNESS.

My daily prayers still include some personal intentions, but they are mostly prayers of thanksgiving. I have faced the evil that cancer is and am still thriving. A sweet cousin, who also overcame breast cancer, wisely told me as I began this journey in March of 2012, that she doesn’t consider herself a survivor, she is a thriver. I have come to realize that my life too is about thriving! My prayer is that I continue to thrive and bear the fruits of the Spirit to others.

I was blessed this past year of good health to spend beautiful moments with my sisters, Diane, Teri and Toni and my brothers, Don and John. I believe our relationships grew stronger and deeper. There were many moments that I treasure with friends too, but siblings share a special bond that runs long and deep. They have seen me at my worst and my best and they continue to stand by me. I pray I have shown them and will continue to show them the love, kindness and gentleness that they have shared with me. Some of the years highlights were…

Kevin and I were blessed to vacation just before my last Herceptin with Teri and Diane for Teri’s Hawaii wedding to a wonderful new brother-in-law, Nick. Teri’s children Mindy and Jack joined us for an incredible 5 sunny days.

Kevin and I were blessed to vacation with Don and Mindy in Cancun for a glorious week in January. Yes during Chicago’s below zero temperatures we were all glad to get away and relax at the beautiful gulf waters. Their friends Tony and Diane joined us for an amazing time filled with lots of laughs.

In March we stole a few days away for my nephew’s wedding in Arizona. Pete and Melissa filled the air with the love that radiated from them. And the time with the extended Caschetta family was so much fun…lots of little ones running around the reception and leading the moves on the dance floor.

The abundant blessings came about at the end of May when we could put off no longer the trip that we had been planning in our minds and hearts for 8 years. Fifteen days in Italy…Rome, Venice, Florence, Cinque Terra and Lucca. My heart felt at home in Lucca. Maybe it was because it is where my Nonno and Noni met, or maybe it was because I knew my father had walked those streets too. I don’t know what it was, but I felt a connection to a place I had only heard stories about.

There may have been hard moments, scary moments and moments of distress this past year. But I choose to remember the moments I spent with my husband, my daughter, my son, my mother, my siblings and my friends. Laughing, loving and living…no, laughing, loving and thriving!

Grace embraced through the love I have been blessed to share with others throughout the past year. May the Lord use me to help others bear their burdens, so that I may lighten their load in some small way.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness,
gentleness and self-control Galatians 5:22-23

 

Taking up my cross

Why do so many suffer? Why does anyone even have to?Wooden Cross

We have been paying for the sin of eating that apple for a long time.
Sin was brought into this world through a simple act, but this Lent we can choose to look beyond the sin; to look beyond the suffering. To cast our eyes of heaven and remember there is a paradise waiting for us.

I know suffering. I have been in pain. Physical pain through 17 months of treatments and many tests before, throughout and continuing. I have had the emotional pain of losing loved ones. But there is always mountain tops to help us with the valleys. I choose this Lent to focus on the blessings. I want to focus on the graces and the joys of my life. It’s a choice, it’s a decision I make each day. And you have the same choice too. You can choose to remain in the suffering or depression of our lives or you can choose to look upward and change your view.

Christ suffered…He did not have to, He’s God…He could have chosen a million other scenarios to come into the world. But He chose a lowly stable to be born in and a brutal cross to die on. He accepted this path for His life. My suffering can never be as horrible. Lent is calling me to reflect on Christ’s life and I can’t do that without reflecting on everything He gave for me…and you.

So I will take up my cross everyday, no matter how heavy. At the end of the day, I also know that I can lay my cross at the feet of Jesus and He willingly takes it from me. I pray my life gives glory to the graces that have been given me.

Grace embraced today through the kindness of the medical professionals that helped my daughter with her pain this past week while fighting a violent flu, while her parents can’t get to her in Arizona. I love and miss you Jaclyn.

If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:24

Another milestone

Oh the joy The Lord has given me this past year.

A year ago today I had my mastectomy surgery. And so began the hardest summer of my life. The only thing harder than this fight I had in front of me was losing my Dad. But I have survived both challenges.

People say “the Lord only gives you what you can handle”…but He doesn’t ask if I want to handle it! I wanted my Dad with me so often this past year. Lymphoma took him within five months, but I know my Dad was with me every step of this past year. I am filled with joy, because I have a faith that trusts in God’s divine providence. I know I might not be able to handle everything, but God can and I usually need to remember to step aside and allow God’s glory to take hold.

Every treatment, chemo, radiation, therapy, doctors appointments and bad day was in God’s ultimate plan. And it feels so good to know that someone all knowing has my back.

This past year has taught me how precious life is…I always knew it of course, but to be thrust in the middle of a life battle really makes you look differently. It also gives you the ability to not sweat the small stuff.

Every blade of grass has a purpose, every ant a mission. What a wonderful gift to be given…a new pair of eyes to see Gods creation and to contemplate its purpose and mission.

Look at the world differently today. Because we are here today, does not guarantee tomorrow. God gives us so much each and every day…we need to embrace each grace, smile and give love back.

Grace embraced this year through the beautiful creation I have seen with my new eyes e of God!

Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. Genesis 1:29-31

Anniversary thoughts

Today begins the Anniversary march. You know when you experience the “firsts” of everything.1anni

One year ago today I found my lump. Although I say “my”, I never took ownership of it. It was a foreigner in my body and as soon as I felt it I wanted it out. I remember telling my husband and he said lovely “it’s probably nothing”. I know he was trying to calm my fears and comfort me. But the one thing I was not was fearful.

I was with my father on November 24, 2006 when the doctor drained the fluid from his lungs and told him the tests were stage 4 lymphoma. He looked at my mother and lovely said “we’ve had a great life”. He would fight with everything he had, but he was not fearful but calm in those first few moments.

I remember thinking immediately of my dad and how strong he was and how faith-filled he was. And I felt the same way. I was not fearful, but I was concerned. Yet, I felt a peace over me. As if the Lord was saying to me “I’ve got this”. And I believed…

“It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority” Acts 1:7

And I have always trusted in my Lord…and He has never failed me.

I trusted His plan is so much better than any plan I could imagine.
I trusted His timing is perfect and that I will not be disappointed.
I trusted His healing power to guide those ministering to me.
I trusted His joy in seeing His glory in all that I would undergo.

And He exceed any expectations I could have imagined.

I would not wish this journey on anyone and I would not choose to go through it again. But I was so blessed with each step of this journey. You have read before all those that have helped me. But spiritually nothing compares to the depth of the relationship between Jesus and me.

He hears from me daily and many times throughout the day.

And I hear from Him more than ever…
I hear his voice in the friends that have reached out to me.
I hear his voice in the family that have cared for me.
I hear his voice in the doctors as they treat me.
I hear his voice in all the support techs and nurses that have shown amazing kindness.

His grace surrounds me.

When I began this blog I named it Grace Embraced, because I knew I felt grace filled moments as I walked those first few weeks alone with my husband and children. Now I know God named this Grace Embraced because He planned on filling every moment of my life with grace, as He has always done…but my eyes are now wide open and I can clearly see the grace as it flows around me.

Grace is Love.
And
Love is God.

To all the wonderful women in my life…for me, do a self-exam this evening…be aware of your own body…don’t put off until tomorrow…I love you all too much to not remind you…

So even on this anniversary that no one wants to remember, and as I approach the first anniversary of surgery and first anniversary of chemo, etc. I remember my dad’s words “we’ve had a good life” and I’m still enjoying it! Thanks Dad for looking down on me and Praise to the Lord for his goodness endures forever and flows over me we grace! According to my medical oncologist, my chances are statistically 50/50 that I will be here for more than 5 years. But my God knows statistics don’t hold any value with Him and I will continue to embrace and follow Him!

Grace embraced through you all; and you all are embraced with all the graces I have received, because I cannot receive them without sharing them with you.

“the day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Matthew 24:36

Celebration!

Well it happened…I tried to stop it, but it came anyway… I tried to ignore it, but they would not let me…so I took a deep breath and celebrated 50!

I truly wanted the day to be quiet and fade into yesterday easily.

I did have hopes.
When I began this journey in March, I imagined and hoped I would have a new chest by my big birthday…that was not to be
I hoped to begin radiation on my birthday (I began Taxol on Kevin’s birthday)…that was not to be
I hoped to be done with all treatments by my birthday…now I’m just dreaming
None of these were to happen.. .I reflected on what my pastor said months ago…”don’t schedule anything through this cancer journey.” It still holds today…probably the best advice I was given. I realize my hope remains where it always has been; in my faith.

However my family and friends were not going to let this birthday slip into tomorrow.

The week after Columbus Day my daughter was home for fall break from her teaching position in AZ. That week was gift for me! Even though it was filled with medical appointments that I have written about already. I got to spend time in the waiting room with Jaclyn! She is my best friend and my strength on days I am week. Her positive energy and constant love is a life line some days.
Well, she and my husband talked to our dear friends Dan and Mistee on Monday. Mistee is the world’s ultimate party hostess. She said yes to having a celebration in their home that Friday…yes in FOUR DAYS!

I was not amazed that Mistee said yes, because that’s who she is. A giving, caring and loving friend…and has a welcoming home, she wanted to do something for me anyway (but I think she was expecting a little more planning time). I was resistant when they told me about the party, because I did not want to celebrate my birthday, but then I really wanted an opportunity to see friends that have done so much for me these past months. I penned out a list to include all my treatment angels and more. Then I could not believe it!

In four days, everyone made time in their schedule to join us! They made the trip south to Peotone, to Dan and Mistee’s beautiful home. It was a dark night and some friends got lost on the gravel roads to a home they have never been to, but they made it! Some asked why it was not a surprise party and I told them, there was no way they would be able to surprise me. Dan and Mistee live on 12 acres with a long driveway – no place to hide the cars!

Did I say everyone made it? They did! My heart was so filled with love and thankfulness! It was a celebration of love so much more than a celebration of my birthday. But when I arrived Mistee put a birthday crown on me and when I asked if I really needed to wear it, she smiled and said “a party in four days…yes” I laughed with her and was happy to honor her request. Then I proceeded to forget it was on my head, so it’s there for most of the pictures. Oh well!

Kevin was asked to say a few words before we prayed and ate. He was overwhelmed with the love in the room and said thanks, but did not know what to say. But I knew. I could not let this moment pass without me giving thanks to my heavenly Father for everyone in the room. “To Dan and Mistee for their eternal friendship and their willingness to open their hearts and home within the week to all these people. To Mindy for all the delicious weekly meals that have been continuous since May. To all the cards, emails, texts, and calls that everyone send, I felt the prayers and love every day. In a special way to my treatment angels; Don, Kathy J., Lori, Wendi, Colleen, Jaclyn, Zachary, Kathy, JeanneMarie, Kathy E. (who were all in the room) and to my sisters Diane, Teri and Toni and niece Brook, who took time from their lives to bring me to treatments. All of you have made this journey bearable because you have held me up when I needed to be carried. I love you all!”

Then as the night was winding down, they forced me to open gifts. I really did not want to, I told Jaclyn to say no gifts. I mean you were calling people on Monday for a party on Friday! And I don’t need for anything when your life is filled with hope, faith and love!

But just like the crown, I succumbed to the persistence of my daughter and hostess. The faith filled books, music, wine, collectibles were beautiful, each with special meaning from the giver. Then a theme began to unwrap. My family bought me a Pandora bracelet and many friends bought charms. As I opened them they shared why they chose the specific charm for me.

As they explained the charms my heart warmed and my eyes filled with joy: Journey, “from the journey with the Lord we have taken together”; Birthstone, from my mother; Wedding Cake, “because we stood up in each other’s weddings”; Angels Wings, “because you inspire me”; Snowflake, “for how much you love the snow and to remember your ski shop days”; Angel of Hope, “for the hope you have in God”; Pink ribbon and Family charm, my struggle and my strength (from my children); Purse, “for all the shopping we will be doing after recovery”; Bible, “for your faith”; Crown “because we serve the same King, Jesus”. As I opened the boxes, Jaclyn created a bracelet of love. I have worn to every treatment and radiation since then knowing that I am encircled with love.

I was exhausted, but made it until all the guests left…past midnight (and my bedtime!). Thank you all those near and far that show so much love to me!

My Treatment Angels (missing Kathy E, Diane, Teri, Toni & Brook)

Dan and Mistee!

My incredible family…I LOVE YOU!