Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Truth About 2013

I just finished our Cato Christmas Card two days ago. And if they weren't created in the 11th hour, cost me a fortune in shipping to get them to my house before Christmas and on the way to my mailbox, I would re-do them. It's a beautiful picture of the girls; however, the update on the flipside of the card doesn't paint the entire picture of The Cato Family in 2013.

"Our family prays that your New Year is filled with love, joy and peace. The girls are growing so quickly. Claire turned 7 in November and Adleigh turned 2 just a few days ago. Bill is still working tirelessly to grow our excavating business and coaching Claire in all of her sporting endeavors. Amy is enjoying renewed health and enjoying every moment of being home with the girls." 

That was as "Norman Rockwell-ish" as I could paint it. I thought I did a pretty good job. However, it's not entirely true. And at a breaking point last night, I, with the help of others, realized that sometimes it's okay to be vulnerable. We aren't wallering in the pit of despair over our year. We have pretty much, on most days, pulled ourselves up, asked God to put us back together every single morning and kept trudging through this journey of life. We are well aware, and are walking life with many friends and family, that some have it much worse that we do.

It hasn't been a Pollyanna year for us, either. We rely on the grace of God in every minute of every day. We are searching for Him. Crying out to Him in our need. We know and abide in His Word. But we are sinners in need of a Savior every single day. And sometimes my faith falters. We know that "our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory" but our flesh is weak and we get weary and we just want life to be easy for a season, or perhaps for a couple of seasons. So here is how our year has really been.

Our family does pray that your New Year is filled with love, joy and peace (but we are especially asking this for our own lives and that's why we can ask it for you...we have been pleading for His love, joy and peace to fill us). The girls are growing so quickly. But they have had some kind of year, though, with my 3 hospitalizations. Adleigh shows it less than Claire. Adleigh did have trouble sleeping for several nights after I returned home in September. I guess it's because she went to get her diaper changed by Gran and Bill and I rushed out the door and I didn't come home for 10 days. Claire has definitely turned into a mommy's girl. She has it tabulated how many times I've been in that hospital. She did that on her own with no prodding from anyone. She thinks "well mommy" is "the best mommy in the whole wide world." I'll take it. And Bill IS, indeed, working tirelessly (I mean working tirelessly) to grow our excavating business (and to provide for his family, to coach Claire's teams, to hold a wet wash cloth on my head and never turn his head in disgust at my sickest, to provide steady income for 2 God-sends that work with him in the trenches daily, to hide the stress from the outside world and always supply quality work at a fair matter how many pieces of equipment break, to get up those few moments early in the quietness of pre-dawn and hit his knees and pray for our family). He is white-eyed and weary many evenings. But he is one of the two strongest men I know (my daddy is the other, if anyone was interested - I'll have to tell a funny on how strong he is at some other point). And I am enjoying renewed health after having the worst year to date with my Crohn's battle. Three hospitalizations, 7 inches of the small intestine, many anxious moments (not being able to see my doctor due to insurance restrictions, fighting for my patient rights with new doctors), many days of denial that it had come back and many, many days and nights of relentless pain later, I am experiencing pain-free living.  And most of all, I am enjoying every single moment of being home with the girls.

Amidst the many hardships, we have countless blessings too. When Bill and I stop and live in the moment, not looking back at the past or being anxious about the future, God has us looking into the face of blessings upon blessings.

I discovered this album by Audrey Assad this winter and it has washed over me many, many times.

"Good To Me"
I put all my hope in the truth of Your promise
And I steady my heart on the ground of Your goodness
When I'm bowed down with sorrow I will lift up Your name
And the foxes in the vineyard will not steal my joy

Because You are good to me, good to me 

I lift up my eyes to the hills where my help is found
Your voice fills the night - raise my head up to hear the sound
Though fires burn all around me I will praise You, my God
And the foxes in the vineyard will not steal my joy

Because You are good to me, good to me 

Your goodness and mercy shall follow me
All my life
I will trust in Your promise

I encourage you to download this song if you are in a particularly hard season. I encourage you to meditate on His Word. Even if you can't believe it at the moment, let Him sing over you with Promises that can never be broken.

We wish each of you the Merriest of Christmases. We pray that life will slow down long enough for you to bask in the "Glory" of this season! We are so thankful for how you have carried us through this year, whether it was through prayers, meals, cards, help...we will never forget the love you have shown us. The Catos love you!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Claire's 6th Birthday Party!

When I worked full-time outside of the home, I had a guilt-driven habit of planning BIG birthday parties for Claire to make myself feel better. It was only our immediate family and 1-2 of our, her parents, closest friends. Lucky for her, her parent's best friends also had two children that were her best friends.

The party was for me. To make me feel better. She could have cared less about the hours on end that I spent in the kitchen late at night after working all day to test out and make the perfect cupcake and icing She could have cared less about the perfectly themed table decor. She could have cared less about a theme at all. But I cared. I wanted her to look back at pictures of her early birthdays and recount that her mommy went to great lengths to plan a perfect day for her.

Now that I am at home full-time with her and Adleigh, I assumed the guilt-driven habit of planning BIG birthday parties would end. I tried. I really did. I stated several times that there was no theme this year. Her birthday invitation to immediate family and 1-2 of her parent's closest friends was generic with a picture of her on it.

And then, one day, I couldn't stand it any longer. I was paralyzed. I had to have a theme.

I asked her what she wanted the theme to be. She said "40's sailor girl." (She has always associated her Halloween costume with her birthday theme which are NOT the same, I argue with her. They are very separate, within the same week, BIG occasions. The annual Halloween party is another party that I need therapy for). She said she wanted a princess cake from Publix. I said, "You don't want Mommy's home-made cupcakes with buttercream icing that I have perfected for YOU?" She said again that she wanted a princess cake from Publix. "Would you like both?" And off she ran with a shrug of her shoulders.

She didn't care, but I did. I had to have a theme. But I was a blank slate. I only had 2 weeks and no ideas. I resorted to polling my Facebook friends. And the theme artist party! I am not original.  All of my ideas were borrowed from the web and party blogs. I used primary colors like an artist's palette. I made flower pom-poms and hung from our ceiling. I baked cupcakes and baked cupcakes and baked more cupcakes...I believe I baked 48 regular size cupcakes, 25 mini-cupcakes and a large artist palette cake. Way too much butter, sugar, flour and powdered sugar than one family needs to have. My best friend baked her famous sugar cookies for the occasion in the shape of an artist palette. The cake was the most challenging since I am definitely an amateur. But for an amateur, I was proud of it in the end.

Here are pictures from the big day!

At the end of the day, Claire had a great time. I think she still could care less about a theme, so I will try my best to do what she wants next year...go to Publix. And at the end of the day, her mommy (and grandmother) were exhausted. Not only can I not say no to a "themed party", I can't say no to "fall cleaning" my house prior to her party, including washing windows. I have no idea why I do this. Like I said, it was only family, who has seen my house for better or worse.

Adleigh's first birthday is only 1.5 months away. I told Bill that I can't continue to do this. However, how can I NOT do it for her first birthday...and then I'll stop!!!!!!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A New Direction

Our family is taking a new direction starting Monday. Over the last 10 years, I have had much change in my life; however, I think this change took the longest time and the most prayer. There are pivotal decisions in everyone's life that mark you forever. My salvation, my marriage, my children, my choice of where to go to college, my career, etc.

Thirteen years ago, fresh out of college, I decided to apply for one of LifeWay Christian Resources summer camps. I was hired to work Crosspoint, a children's sports camp. Through that decision, I met many people who believed in me and nurtured my career path. Nearly 10 years ago, I was hired as a Women's Events Coordinator for LifeWay Christian Resources.

I have had the amazing privilege of coordinating events for our generation's top women's Bible teachers in churches, convention centers and arenas. As I tell so often, this was not a position I sought after. God placed it in my lap and in my heart. However, there has never been a position that was more suited for my God-given gifts and abilities. The work has never been hard for me; perhaps stressful, but never hard. I loved every moment of it. The traveling to events, of course. But also the tedious in-office details. My heart and soul thrived on it all. My natural-born tendency to internalize stress and remain calm under pressure was an asset.

But, as should always be expected, there comes a bend in the road. A beautiful baby girl arrived on the scene 5 years ago. My purpose in life shifted, as does every mother. However, I decided to remain on my path as an event coordinator because I was so fulfilled spiritually and mentally by what I did. And, of course, our family had become accustomed to a two-income household. The travel became harder and my life became more stressful, but I had a very supportive husband at home and a gracious family that helped me on those traveling weekends.

Three years ago, my life's path took another detour when I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease. Although I needed to make my health a top priority in my life - nutrition, exercise and stress-management, I just couldn't (maybe wouldn't) make the time with working full-time, traveling and raising Claire. But as many of you know, as hard as you fight it, your body often wins. My internalized stress was going to get me, sooner or later.

And then the biggest decision of our married life occurred 2 years ago when we decided to launch Cato Construction and Excavating. (You can read about that entire spiritual journey here). During these business-launching years, my income was critical. I became so dependent on my job for the paycheck that the joy of what I did was slowly seeping out of me. Stressful situations at work that once were small obstacles were now huge roadblocks that I couldn't tackle because I felt trapped. I am sure I was a bear to work with at times as I pitied myself - "I want to go home to be a mom, I can't go home, I love what I do, I hate what I do." My heart and mind was so conflicted. And the more I prayed for clarity, the more conflicted I became.

Even when I was pregnant with Adleigh this past summer and fall, I would go back and forth on working and staying at home. Although Bill was working so hard and getting many calls, we kept getting financial blows with the business (and fixing a dumptruck or dozier is not inexpensive). As work became more stressful, my heart was being called towards home more and more. But me of little faith did not know how we were going to do it financially. I had been cutting coupons and saving where I could already, I just couldn't see a way for me to come home. And the Crohn's was always looming over me. Even though I hadn't had symptoms of the disease in 18 months, the fear of not being insurable was often insurmountable. Bill was pleading for me to trust him and God. I wanted to take the leap of faith, but the realist in me would never let go.

And then it happened, one evening in late February as Bill and I were discussing the stresses that returning to work and traveling would put on our family. He looked at me and said, "I will support you if you go back, but I think it will be too much stress on our family." And that was it. The decision was made. I jumped without the parachute. We stepped into the waters without knowledge of it's parting. The paralyzing fears that were torturing me were replaced by peace. I was not returning to work. I still couldn't make the math work out. But I believed that God had prepared this path for us. Once the decision was made, in hindsight, it seemed like the easy decision. But 5 years of agonizing will not be forgotten.

As soon as the decision was made, as only God could orchestrate, the phone started ringing. Not only for more work for Bill, but leads for me to work from home in a capacity that I am so familiar with and that will allow me to use the experiences I have had at LifeWay. What a faithful God we serve. It's not the easy road. I was, as I once feared, declined on Bill's insurance due to the Crohn's and we don't know what we will do. Our vehicle did break-down the week we made the decision. But I have quickly come to understand that God's abundant blessings are not material, they are love, joy and peace...three blessings He has showered on me lately.

So that is our new direction. I am no longer an event coordinator. I traded in that hat to be a family manager (which includes making my health a top priority) and No. 1 cheerleader of Cato Construction and Excavating. And check back later when I can officially announce what I will be doing part-time. It's a continuation of the God story.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Learning Life Lessons with Your Child: Be Kind!

(Disclaimer to this post: The activities described in this post are currently being tested. We are 12 hours into the test. I may have to retract my position after a longer period of testing!)

For some time, we have had trouble with Claire's sassy mouth. It seems like every word that comes from her mouth is bathed in either ingratitude, complaint or sass. After a long morning yesterday, I finally took my woes to my personal MomSquad (the ladies in my office that have been there and done that and don't judge me for my mothering missteps). I asked, "What in the world can I do to help Claire be more grateful and kind with her words."

The first brave friend gently told me, from her own experience of course and not out of judgment toward me (!), that first, we, as moms, have to look at how our words are coming across to our children.

My history (and Bill's too) is that neither one of us are yellers. So, mentally, I put my "Good Job" sticker by that checkpoint and moved down the list. Perhaps sometimes I'm a little nagging and hurrying in my words and gritting my teeth to Claire (but then again, I'm just trying to get us to work, school, church, social activities on time. Okay, so I put my "Try Harder Next Time" sticker by that checklist item. Do I complain? Oh no, I do complain. Most of the time. I feel like I'm wearing many hats and I complain because none of those hats are worn with excellence. And then my words lash out to the ones I love the most at home.

So the verdict was that I had some work to do on my own mouth.

As I got Claire buckled into the car after pre-school and started driving home, I started a conversation with her.

Me: "Claire, God has talked to me today and He told me that I haven't been speaking very kind words to you. Will you forgive me?"

Claire: "That's okay Mommy" (notice that she didn't forgive me...she pointed this out later that evening when I was recounting the story to Bill!)

Me: "Claire, I am going to try really hard to be kind to you with my words. But I need your help. If you can be kind to me with your words, I think it will remind me to be kind to you. Can we do that together."

Claire: "Yes, we can be kind one to another" (Good job Ms. Patty...that verse was her Sunday School verse this past week).

I continued to re-iterate the point down the road and felt like we were making some progress. First test came when we drove by Toys-R-Us and I told her "not tonight". Test begins. Her mouth opened and she started to whine and complain, and then something miraculous happened. She caught herself and said, "I'm not being very kind." Bingo Sister. You got it. You understand.

Now, before I slap the "Terrific Job, Mom" sticker on this test, I need to tell you that later that night as she threw a tantrum over something very mild (in my opinion), and after I reminded her that she wasn't being kind with her words, she let me know that she "didn't feel like being kind" and that she was mad, and sad and angry (thanks pre-school for teaching her to put words to her feelings)! But I will give both her and I a B+ for our effort and will continue to repeat the lesson.

I learned a valuable lesson in parenting yesterday. It's not always about correcting and guiding my child, but sometimes I have to pray for direction and help her learn what I am learning. Wish us luck tonight!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Happy New Year!

I know it's not January 1! However, I feel like it's the beginning of a new year for me. This weekend, I went to Boston (well, actually Lowell, MA which is about 30 miles outside of Boston) and coordinated my final Living Proof Live event for 2010. My first event of 2011 is in April. That means I have 6 months before another event. I do have a couple of more travel conferences in the next month, but the intensity of coordinating an event is behind me for 2010.

So, I made a list tonight of things I want to be intentional about doing and getting into a strong habit of doing for the next 6 months. As friends, you can help keep me accountable. Here's my top 6 projects for the next 6 months:

1. Plan the best birthday party a 4 yr. old could ever have! That includes finishing my sewing project for Claire's November 1st birthday. (I can't wait to post pictures).
2. Return to weekly attendance of our Wednesday night church activities
3. Exercise. To be specific, I would like to start running again and dabble in either yoga or pilates.
4. Start shopping for Christmas! Well, and actually catch up on 2010 neglected birthday presents (Sorry Gran and Owen, it's coming).
5. Take control over my nutrition due to being off of Remicade. Which includes more cooking and attempting new recipes. STOP eating Mexican!!!
6. Clean, clean, clean! Oh, this may be my favorite. I can't wait to have a sparkling home again! Most likely, just in time to decorate for Christmas and get it all dirty again!

What are your fall/winter goals? I am so good at making goals in January. But I think October is as good of a time for goal-setting as any month.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I Believe

When I was a senior in high school, I was given an English assignment to write a first-person perspective paper on my summer. That summer, our family had celebrated the marriage of my one and only, older sister. As you can imagine, and I experienced first-hand 11 years when I got married, it was an all-consuming summer of wedding details. I was quite the baby of the family and acted the role 100% that entire summer. I wanted nothing to do with the wedding, the showers, the festivities (until the day of the wedding when all of these handsome college guys showed up that were friends of my sister and brother-in-law). When I wrote that paper 2 months later, I aired all of my griefs toward that wedding. And guess what? The teacher posted THOSE papers on the bulletin board for parent-teacher night. My mother was appalled. She still shakes her head about it to this day!

Where am I going? I feel like this post may be too honest, one that I might be appalled at later due to my lack of faith; however, more importantly, I pray that it will minister to someone walking a similar road - now or in the future.

I have written a little along the way on this blog about being diagnosed with Crohn's disease about 18 months ago. The journey has been nearly a 3 year journey as symptoms were there, but we couldn't put our finger on the diagnosis 100%. For the past 15 months, I have been on a high-powered drug to offset the symptoms; however, it doesn't get to the root of the cause of this disease. So once I go off this very expensive and heavy-laden-with-side-effects drug, the symptoms will most likely come back. It has been a journey for our family as we have prayed and wrestled with whether to be on the medicine. In the 15 months I have been on the medicine, I have felt better; however, the thoughts and fears always are looming that this chronic disease will be with me forever and effect my quality of life. I have cried out to the Lord for healing realizing that healing could either be COMPLETE healing from the disease from the Lord or it could be healing through on-going use of medicine or many alternatives in between.

I have struggled off and on in my faith that God would truly heal all my disease.

I have also written about our new business venture. It has been such a joy to watch my husband take ownership over this, the leadership/communication/inter-personal skills he has developed in such a short time. It is my greatest delight to see people pleased with what he does. Greater more, my delight at seeing him pleased at what he does. It has also been hard. I haven't always been the supportive wife and partner that I have been called to be. I have mentioned in previous posts that Bill is a man of great faith. He doesn't doubt that God will do what He says He will do (thanks Beth Moore and "Believing God"). Bill absolutely, 100% believes that the Lord led us into this season of being owners of a construction/excavating company and that He will not abandon us. Many nights as we sit down for supper, Bill will look at me and say, "He gave us our manna today. Just enough."

I have struggled off and on in my faith that God would truly be our portion.

Claire, in the past 4-5 months, has been given us FITS. I am not ashamed to admit that she has a stronger personality that both her mother and her father. I have never wanted to squelch the personality that God has created in her. That personality amuses me many days and I am assured that God is raising up a mighty leader that won't take no for an answer. But that personality also has me finding great joy in tenderizing meat with a meat tenderizer or has me beating a wiffle ball bat against our bedroom floor (I'm not kidding about that one)! Bill and I, many times, have looked at each other and thrown our hands up admitting we have no idea how to parent this gift from God. I am happy to report that this tide has shifted in the past 3 weeks. Prior to those three weeks, I thought all three of us were going to lose our minds and join the circus. Have you ever read the children's book "You Are My I Love You"? It is a sweet book that talks about the extremes of parent and child. One page reads, "I am your parent, you are my child. I am your calm, you are my wild." That is our story!

I have struggled off and on in my faith that God would truly calm my little 'raging sea'.

And being completely honest here, of lately, I have struggled to understand how any of the above matters and how God could care about these little inconveniences in MY life. As I have walked the journey with a best friend who has a 2 1/2 year old son who has been fighting brain cancer for the past year, walking with women day in and day out in my women's ministry position who deal with infertility, terminal illness, bankruptcy, failed marriages, addictions and on and on.

I have struggled, more so than not, in my faith that God holds my every moment, that He holds MY world in His hands and cares for me as much as these others.

And then, out of the blue, I listened to a song that I am sure our event worship leader, Travis Cottrell, has sung many times at our events. When I heard it, I about ran off of the road trying to find paper to scribble the lyrics down because it was my thoughts...word for word.

You hold my every moment
You calm my raging sea
You walk with me through fire
You heal all my disease

I trust in you, I trust in you

I believe You're my healer
I believe You are all I need
I believe You're my portion
I believe You're more than enough for me

Nothing is impossible for You, Nothing is impossible.
Nothing is impossible for You, You hold my world in Your hands.

(from the song "Healer")

In my heart, I truly believe that God is powerful enough to take care of all of these things. However, I also know that God allows many circumstances into our lives to build our faith in Him. And that is the case for me! I would love to say that as I have walked through some fiery situations, that I gave all glory to God. I, sadly, can't. However, I know that with each trial, my faith gets a tad bit stronger.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Although We See No Wind or Rain

We jokingly say in our family that I am the Chief Financial Officer of our family (handle the finances, Type A personality to the point of being OCD) and Bill is the Chief Operations Officer of our family (the hard-working dreamer, takes one day at a time). In our first years of marriage, some of the biggest struggles we had would be from his "dreaming" and my squelching those dreams and giving him a reality-check.

I always knew that Bill dreamed of owning his own company. Since he was in the field of construction and built our first two homes, I always assumed he would be a general contractor one day although his strength and expertise in this field was the heavy-equipment, excavating and digging utilities. As he dreamed of being on his own, I was always more comfortable with the liability being on someone else's shoulders and I was comfortable with both of us working for someone else.

God doesn't always like for us to be in our comfort zones.

Late this past winter, the construction work scarcity finally hit middle TN. For a couple of weeks, Bill was getting fewer and fewer hours from his boss, who owned his small construction company that built higher-end homes. Just as Bill was filling out unemployment papers and applying to Home Depot just to keep a job, the Lord turned a chapter in our lives.

One morning, my devotion was on 2 Kings 3:16-17:

"Then [Elisha] said, "This is what the LORD says: 'Dig ditch after ditch in this stream.' For the LORD says, 'You will not see wind or rain, but the stream will be filled with water, and you will drink - you and your cattle and your animals.' This is easy in the LORD's sight. He will also hand Moab over to you."

The devotion spoke more on spiritual blessings. I hid the truths in my heart that morning. Memorizing the verse as best as I could and promising myself to expect the unexpected in my spiritual life that day.

As I was driving to work, Bill called me. Just that morning, his boss had approached him about purchasing the excavating equipment (a dump truck, dozier, backhoe, skid steer and misc. equipment) and going out on his own.

I know the next few minutes were nothing of what Bill expected. I chuckled in the phone and recited in my mind the verses I had just memorized this morning (dig ditch after ditch [excavating is digging ditches]'ll neither see the wind nor the rain [this is a very hard economic didn't make sense to go into business for ourselves], but the streams will be filled...this is easy in the sight of the LORD).

Bill was astonished by my reaction and the words that I told him about 2 Kings. He is a man of great faith and believes God will do the impossible, despite a hardening economy, despite the downturn in the housing industry. So Bill had been praying, unbeknownst to me, for some time that God would provide us with an opportunity to start our own excavating business. However, he knew his first prayer would need to be that his wife (that's me!) would be open to the idea!

We were amazed at how both of us, the dreamer and the realist, were both on the same spiritual page. We were going to have to go against conventional wisdom and do this. Everything in our day and times told us purchasing heavy construction equipment and going out on our own was foolish. We had been dreaming of me coming home from work soon, and were in the midst of making some adjustments to our 2 income lifestyle. Adding this equipment debt would not accomplish those goals as soon as we thought, but we both knew that all of our dreams were easy in the sight of the LORD!

It hasn't been a cake-walk these first few months of being a small business owner. The flood hit Nashville and knocked us off the grid for a couple of weeks, but then God provided work in helping people re-build after the flood. I often re-read that devotion. One portion says, "It is not the part of faith to question, but to obey. The ditches were made, and the water came pouring in from some supernatural source."

"Oh, for that faith that can act by faith and not by sight, and expect God to work although we see no wind or rain." --A.B. Simpson