Advent

Somehow, I almost missed it {grace in the good enough, Advent version}

There are two sticky notes sticking out of my Advent journal this morning.

That’s what sticky notes are for, to stick out- to remind me of something I’m probably going to forget otherwise. I sometimes think sticky notes are the thing that keeps me together- or, if not together, at least from falling completely apart.

The first bright pink flag in the book marks the place where I first missed a day of the journal this Advent. I meant to go back and pick it up later, but I fell further and further behind. The second note marks the place where I actually am supposed to be right now, today, but I’m not really there, either.

There is a widening gap between those two pieces of paper- the place where I ought to be and the place where I really am.

That’s the story of my Advent, actually.
Maybe it’s the story of my life.

I had such grand plans- again, because I usually do- of all the things I’d do and be and how it would all come together to create a place of spiritual readiness and material readiness and all things READY.

Somehow, I missed- again, because I usually do- that Advent isn’t about my readiness.

It’s about the Incarnation.
It’s about Jesus, who showed up in a world that was not ready to receive Him at all (but desperately needed Him, all the same!) in a place that was anything but prepared for a birth.

And yet, it was enough for Him.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

 
                                          from In the Bleak Midwinter by Christina Rosetti

The reason it was enough has nothing to do with what it actually was, at all. The reason it was enough is because He was enough to make up for all of what it wasn’t.

Somehow, I missed that- again, because I almost always do.
I mistakenly took the gift of time to prepare for the Incarnation and made it about me, about all the things I could do to get ready.

Advent- this one, or any one- isn’t about what I do or about how prepared I manage to be or about how many nights we successfully light our wreath as a family or about how many symbols make it onto our Jesse Tree. It’s not about taking the links off our Advent chain in the right order or about learning enough Latin verses of Adeste Fidelis so that we can sing along at Mass without a song book. It’s not about whether we got cookies made for our neighbors and friends or about whether we mailed our cards out on time or whether we managed to squeeze in every O Antiphon this last week before Christmas.

It’s not about squeezing anything in.

It’s about opening something up- our hearts, which are all He really wanted in the first place.

And in the next few days, there’s still time to do exactly that. There’s time to open my heart, even just a little bit, and make some space for Him. Any space I make in there will just allow Him to fill it with more Love.

Come, Lord Jesus. Fill us with your Love. We won’t be ready to receive you, but we long to receive you anyway, and we need you so much. Take what we have to offer, whatever it is, and make it enough. Help us remember that without You, nothing we have will ever be enough- and with You, whatever we have will more than suffice.

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7 quick takes, Advent

(Not Quite) 7 (Not So) Quick Takes: The Advent Edition

This isn’t actually going to catch you up, in case you had any hopes for that. Part of the reason I’ve been putting off writing here is that the list of things I haven’t told you just gets longer and longer. So I’m jumping in mid-stream, and I’ll just put in backstory where it’s needed, and if you’re lost you’ll have to holler at me to slow down or back up.

Deal?

Good, now that we have that all figured out, here’s what we’ve been up to lately:

1. Advent School

I decided this year when planning our schedule for school to leave space during Advent and Christmas to do something different. We’re doing a light study of Christmas traditions around the world using Mary Lankford’s Christmas around the World as our main read-aloud and then reading all the Christmas picture books we love from our collection plus a healthy infusion of them from the library. My confession is that I put all those library books on hold in late October/early November and have just been renewing them so that we’d be sure to have them before someone else did. Sorry, y’all with whom I share a library system. I am being good about bringing them back when we have finished, though, so that’s something.

Without the usual schedule of math and history and science and other stuff, I have actually had the self-discipline to bake with my kids and let them do messy crafts without losing it entirely. We’ve hung pinecone bird feeders, made gingerbread play dough, painted wooden ornaments, sewn felt Christmas trees and made lavender sachets with cross-stitched letters on them. Not everyone has done all of these things. Someone hasn’t really done any of them. It’s okay, though- we have had time for extra reading, extra making, extra music, and extra lounging around, and it feels like overall things are working out as I hoped they might.

2. Advent- marking time

These are the things people want to know, right? What do you do? What should we be doing?

I’ll tell you what we are doing if you promise not to think it is what you should be doing.

Our Advent calendar – we open one door a day and there’s a short reading that goes along with it. This is my favorite Advent calendar of all time.

Our Advent wreath– we light the candle for the week on Saturday evening as a vigil for the coming Sunday, and we light it each night during the week before the kids go to bed and sing the first verse of O Come, O Come Emmanuel. We’ve been using this book by Lisa Hendey for several years now, and it’s just about perfect for the age that our family is- short, sweet, and to the point. (There are questions to discuss if you want to be more elaborate. We never do.)

The Sam of Advent Past: he is basically the same now, just bigger

Advent chain– I came up with this project for Sam a few years ago, and then the lovely Nancy of Do Small Things with Love made a wonderful printable version of it. There is a name of Jesus for each day of Advent. You can print Nancy’s pages out, cut them into strips, and make a chain so that you can remove a link each day leading up to Christmas. Scripture references on the chain links make it easy to look up the verses where each name of Jesus originates in the Bible. It’s been fun.

Jesse Tree– I have a pretty terrible track record with the Jesse Tree. We can’t seem to sustain it- things get busy, we get behind, and then I’m totally overwhelmed and we just drop it. I printed out Nancy’s ornament patterns a couple of years ago and we colored them, but we’ve never really gotten very far with the actual reading and doing of the tree.

This year, we are trying to keep up. Since I don’t have a lot of space to put out more things, we wrapped a branch with thread and are hanging the ornaments from it. No picture I can take of this branch is even remotely inspiring. So far, we are only slightly behind, but I’m not too worried about it yet.

We already put up our tree because we have a couple of trips away this month and didn’t want things to feel rushed. We could have waited until Gaudete Sunday, but we didn’t. I think at other times I’ve been more precious about the most correctest possible way to do everything, but this year I am just…not.

3. Hand-me-down hobbies
I thought this article from Brandy at Afterthoughts was so encouraging. I’ve been a little worried about how some of my kids don’t seem to be picking up certain things I wish they would pick up, or how I’m not spending equal time teaching each one of them the same things…but the older they get, the more different they are, and with so many different interests, it’s just not possible to cover everything with everyone in the same degree of detail. So for now, I’m spending more time with Lucy picking out carols on the piano or singing in parts, and Nora’s sitting with me working on her crochet technique (which will be better than mine quickly, since I don’t really crochet), and I’m playing chess with Sam or talking about theology or Hobbits or whatever else he’s read that I’ve always meant to read and haven’t gotten around to reading yet.

Bottom line: it’s going to be okay, because siblings.

4. Siblings

There is so much sibling conflict here right now that I often wonder if siblings are the reason why it is NOT going to be okay, maybe ever again…so I especially welcomed the reminder from Brandy (see #3) that there are practical advantages to having several children in my home, even if they aren’t immediately apparent. The squabbling is killing me, y’all. The boys are always whacking each other with swords, and if we take the swords away, they find other things with which to whack. The girls are constantly making and breaking and reforming alliances and sneaking Halloween candy into their room and arguing over who should have to clean up the dirty clothes that are everywhere. And I’m running around saying, “Everything has a place!” and “Don’t leave underwear in the kitchen!” and “Swords are not for whacking your brother!” (even though swords really are kind of for whacking your brother, aren’t they?)

5. Advent playlist

I have an eclectic Advent playlist. It’s still my go-to, and every now and then I add things to it, but that’s hard to do because I made it way back in the day when George had the only Spotify account in our household. It’s still under his name, but if you need music to accompany your Advent, give it a try. 
https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/1233061482/playlist/1NU3xalSmeK22Cn2iBlbZ0

6. HolyLens

George and I are doing #HolyLens again this Advent, because we would miss it if we didn’t. There is a small but faithful band joining us on Instagram. If taking pictures of your daily life helps you see the moments of grace embedded in your days, come and join us. Just look for the hashtag. I’m dere_abbey and George is grdvee.

That’s it. I guess sometimes quick takes come in sixes instead of sevens. Or maybe I’ll think of something else later.

Would you say a prayer for our parish Blessed is She leadership team and the women who will attend our Advent retreat tomorrow? It’s supposed to snow, probably not a lot, but I’d hate for weather to get in the way of what might be a very needed two hours of peace and reflection for these ladies tomorrow. I love snow, and I refuse to apologize for that, but if we could have snow and safe travels/not-too-slippery parking lots tomorrow, that would be most excellent.

Thanks for reading. I know I have been silent quite a while, and I don’t take it for granted that you stuck around now that I have something to say again. 

Advent, anxiety

Adventing, as you do {Abbey, the unready}

I startled awake this morning, anxious and uncomfortable.

Almost immediately, I realized part of my discomfort was from a pair of three-year-old feet pressed solidly into the small of my back, kneading my kidneys with ten still-chubby toes.

Also (possibly related to the toes), I needed the bathroom urgently.

Also, I’ve fallen into my usual trap of Advent anxiety.

Last night after a long day of meeting and errands and one particularly awful grocery store trip (in which a woman in the checkout line suggested that I should drink the entire bottle of wine I was purchasing), we put our four overtired children to bed. I sat at my desk and scrolled back through old blog posts, trying to find one about our favorite Christmas books (how do I not have a post about our favorite Christmas books after all these years?), and I had to laugh at myself. So many words about Advent. So many sentences about waiting and not rushing and being present in the moment. So many reassurances about how this is a time of preparation and we don’t have to have all the things ready right now.

I guess I was writing to myself all that time as much as anyone else. I needed to reread my own words.

So this morning, in the waning moments of darkness before the sun creeps up and my children burst forth to find their new slippers stuffed with chocolate coins and clementines and candy canes, here is a reminder from me to you (and from me to me):

Advent is for preparation. It’s a whole season in which to prepare for the Incarnation…an event large enough that we need weeks to get ready for it- not just once, but every single year. Even Mary, the mother of the Word made flesh, needed time to prepare for Jesus, leading Him to spend the first nine months of His life as a human being waiting silently in her womb. He was gestating. He was preparing, too, as His body was being woven together in the sanctuary of His mother. I can’t even get my mind to wrap around that truth.

And that’s okay, because it’s Advent, and I have time to wonder over it. It is a mystery worth all the wonder I can muster in the coming days and weeks.

As we prepare our hearts, it is perfectly fine to also be preparing our everyday lives for the celebration that is coming. It’s okay to use Advent to clear our countertops while we ponder what it means to clean our hearts. It’s okay to use Advent to spruce up our front porches while we contemplate what sort of outward expressions of Christian joy we’re sharing with the world. It’s okay to use Advent to choose and wrap gifts for those we love as we consider the great Gift that came to each of us over two thousand years ago.

It’s okay to not be ready yet. It’s okay, because Advent is for getting ready, and getting ready is what what we are supposed to be doing right now.

But Advent is more than that, too. It’s an invitation to take advantage of the time we have to join Mary in pondering all these things in our hearts. The Incarnation is a mystery that never gets smaller. It’s never any less amazing. There is plenty of material there for thinking and praying and meditating on for a lifetime.

So stop worrying about not being ready, and go get ready. Get Adventing. Tell me what you’re doing to get ready. While you bake things (if you do that) and wrap things and arrange things, take a few minutes to ponder why we do this and what it all means. And if you are one of those amazing people who is already ready for Christmas before Advent begins, I salute you and would like you to write a guest post for me next year around October so that you can share your wisdom and best tips with the rest of us, because I could clearly use some help in that department.

Happy Advent.

#HolyLens, Advent

Light…with heart.

“I hate this stupid church.”

With this pronouncement, my two year old beam of sunshine cast his board book onto the stone floor and proceeded to kick the back of the pew in front of us with all his might.

Meanwhile, the bishop was sealing the door of mercy a few hundred yards away.

All I could think was that I needed to walk through that door a few hundred more times before he closed it up.

*  *  *  *  *  *  * 

After the solemn Mass at the Basilica, my family drove back through Washington, D.C. on our way home. As we passed the Capitol, I noticed that the scaffolding had been removed since I had last seen it. I had two thoughts about this: 1) maybe the prayers I hurled at the building as we drove past will be able to penetrate more deeply into the walls than before, and 2) maybe the whole thing will just crumble and fall down now.

*  *  *  *  *  *  * 

As we enter this week of liturgical no-man’s land between the Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe, which ends the Church year, and the beginning of Advent next Sunday, I feel a little lost. There is no playlist or devotional guide or special set of prayers for this week, for the in-between, for the days in which we must wait to begin our official season of waiting for the birth of Christ.

There’s Thanksgiving, of course, and there are things to do to be ready for Advent, too. Normally, this trips me up- I have to hurry up and get ready! so much to do ahead of time to prepare so that I can prepare properly!- but this year, I’m not anxious about preparation. There are a thousand more important things to be anxious about than whether I can find the wreath form I usually use for our Advent candles and whether anyone will give me any magnolia leaves for decorating.

The fact is, I can’t wait to start lighting those candles. I don’t care if they are just sitting on a paper plate on the kitchen table this year. I am just so done with sitting around in the dark and twiddling my thumbs. I am done with reading the news and feeling my pulse quicken and my blood pressure go up. I am done with scrolling through Twitter and Facebook, clicking hearts over here and a sad face over there and an occasional angry face on a story about a billboard in Mississippi.

I am so done with all this useless activity that passes for doing something.

Being informed is good. It’s good to know what’s going on. It might even be good to know how other people feel about it. What’s not good is feeling compelled to read four stories about the same issue to be sure I’m getting all the perspectives, then cross-checking those perspectives with the ones I follow on Twitter (which are different from the ones I follow on Facebook, so I have to check those, too). What’s not good is feeling so emotionally affected by the news stories I’m reading that I can’t muster the energy to actually get up and do anything about it.

The time for scrolling passively, if there ever was such a time, has passed. What’s needed now is prayerful contemplation of the depth of the darkness in which we find ourselves. What’s needed now is careful conversation, talking and listening with open minds and hearts in a genuine exchange of thoughts and perspectives. What’s needed now is to ask God, “What are you requiring of me?”

Things I am pretty sure God is not requiring of me:

  • a perfectly cleaned and decorated house
  • more time spent on my phone finding out what other people think about the issues of the day
  • more time reacting to those other people’s thoughts by clicking on emoticons
  • more time reading about the negative impacts the incoming administration might have on the country
  • more time reading rebuttals of those articles about the potential negative impacts
  • more time hitting “refresh” to see if there are any articles I haven’t read yet

Things I wonder if God is requiring of me:

  • deliberate steps taken to remind us that we committed to keep Jesus at the center of our family life
  • more attention to the places He is already present, casting light, restoring brokenness, making things new
  • more careful words that promote a climate of kindness in our home (instead of snappish words that spread around the anxiety I have been feeling)
  • more time spent in actual conversations with people whose perspectives and life experiences are different than mine, even if I have to go to some trouble to find those folks

I think what I’ve been lacking lately is focus.

With that in mind, I’m going to take a break from all the scrolling during Advent. I’m going to stop reading so many news stories and start looking for God in the little things that are actually in front of me in real life again. I’m going to try to find concrete ways to be Christ to my brothers and sisters, whether they live in my house, on my street or on the other side of the globe. I’m going to light candles with all my heart…because I think candles lit with heart are a good first step in battling darkness.

Candles (regardless of the amount of heart with which they are lit) do not fix problems, especially overwhelming, centuries-old injustices with complicated history and huge emotional entanglements- but they do keep us from sinking into the darkness of despair. Candles lit with heart are a rallying cry. Pick yourself up. The darkness doesn’t win unless you let it. Go out with your light and do something to make the darkness less dark.

Meanwhile, the Light of the World is still coming. All the darkness in the universe can’t stop Him. Take heart. And in the meantime, do your part to make things a little brighter.

If you’re looking for a way to focus and make things a bit brighter, come join us on Instagram for #HolyLens. Daily photo prompts based on the scripture readings for the day will start next Sunday, November 27. Take a photo as a way to find the holy in the middle of the ordinary, and share it with our community as a way to push back the darkness a little bit.

#HolyLens, Advent, Nora

Theme Thursday: Advent, Week 3

This long blogging silence has been brought to you by copious list-making, cookie baking, crafting, reading, sewing, decorating and laundering. I’ve been really productive, just not in publishable ways. More on that some other time.

Today, I had the gift of time to spend a few minutes wrapping gifts with Nora. Of all my children, she’s the most likely to be a successful present wrapper. I’ve been waiting for a moment when the other two big kids were busy and the littler one was sleeping, and today, I got it.

We knelt together on the kitchen floor. I showed her how to measure the paper, tape the box, fold and crease the ends neatly, just the way my Gram and my mother taught me. By the time we got to the second gift, she was flying solo except for the cutting. I was so proud- she measured, she trimmed, she folded and creased like a pro. Her tongue stuck out of the corner of her mouth just like mine does when I’m concentrating. Her cheeks flushed pink as she chose just the right bow and tag for each gift. Her enjoyment was all over her face.

On the fifth package, Nora cut before she was ready, and the paper was a bit too short. We turned it both ways and couldn’t quite make it fit. Dismayed, she bit her nails, wondering what I would say about the waste of paper.

I hate that she has reason to wonder if I’ll be upset about something like that.

I’ve always loved wrapping gifts, partly because it rewards perfectionism. My sister and I used to do all of them for Gram at family birthdays and Christmas. That feels so long ago- those hours we shared in Gram’s back bedroom, piles of boxes and tape and rolls of paper scattered around the room, giggling as we worked together, setting up “assembly lines,” feeling important to be the guardians of Big Important Secrets until Christmas Day.

Sharing this time with my daughter today was more than just a sweet reminder of days past. It felt like the handing on of a shared knowledge from generation to generation. “It’s worth doing it right,” Gram used to tell me as she held the end closed for me to place the tape. “Measure twice, cut once.”

It is worth doing things right, but people’s feelings are always more important than perfect packages. Because of Gram, I know just how to line up the paper to camouflage a seam if I forget her advice and cut before I’ve measured carefully enough.

Now Nora knows, too. As we piled the packages under the tree, she smoothed out some bows and breathed, “They look almost wonderful.”

Squeezing her with both arms, I told her they were my favorite packages ever…and I meant it.

Linking up with Micaela at California to Korea for Advent, Week 3.

#HolyLens, Advent

Advent: Unready.

By the tender mercy of our God,
    the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace. 
                               
            Luke 1:78-79, NRSV

Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent.

I woke up this morning to a sky streaked red and gold from the top to the bottom corners of my bedroom window, and I felt it…a dreadful, heavy sense of not being ready.

I’m not ready.

And because Advent is the new Christmas, the internet wants me to be ready. All my favorite bloggers have been discussing their Advent plans and what books they are reading and what prayers they are using and what crafts they are doing with their kids. There are recipes and book studies and so many wonderful options I can choose to make this our holiest Advent yet.

I could have already hurried up and finished my shopping, my Christmas cards, even have already made and frozen my cookies ahead of time. Today, I could have everything planned and packaged and ready to go so that I could just sit back and wait for the real miracle, the One who is the reason behind all the preparations, the baby Jesus, whose birth is still a month away.

But I haven’t. I haven’t done any of that yet.

All day today, as I continue the slow clean up and take down of our fall and Thanksgiving decorations, I keep telling myself I have a whole month to get ready for Christmas. That’s what Advent is for, right?

But getting ready for Advent? That’s another story. And for who I am, for the person God made me to be, feeling unready and unprepared and not-entirely-on-top-of-it doesn’t feel good. I’m crabby. I don’t handle my own unpreparedness with grace.

On some level, yes, we are ready. I know where the wreath is that we used last year, and I even ordered a box of appropriately-colored candles ahead of time. I hosted Thanksgiving dinner this year, and I knew I’d be ready for a break after that was over (and not ready to launch into a new season of checklists and planning just yet).

Thanksgiving was wonderful. The food was delicious. The company was dear. The post-dinner football game was the first one of its kind ever played in our yard, and everyone had a great time tackling and laughing and enjoying one another. I loved our flowers and the candles and the place cards. It was a beautiful day. And it was fulfilling for me in my checklist-loving, INFJ way- I planned, I executed, and I enjoyed.

But I’m not ready for Advent.

Maybe for some of us, maybe for me, the call to living in rhythm with the Church’s seasons is not about being ready at all. Maybe it’s about being shaped and formed, gradually, into the image of Christ…the image of the One whose Light is coming into the world, the kind of Light we need so much more than all the most beautiful strings of twinkling ones we can imagine.

Maybe Advent is not about having everything prepared ahead of time so I can focus on being holy. Maybe Advent is a gift of days, of time given to focus on how un-ready and unholy we all are, perpetually, and how much in need of grace and Light and a salvation that can never be earned but is a gift from God, so that no one can boast. Whether I am actually boasting about my salvation or just about my exquisitely decorated front door doesn’t matter. It’s shifting the focus in my heart from the One on whom it should be focused.

It’s a good dose of humility for me to realize that I’m not the most prepared, most organized person this year.

My kids are ready to jump into Christmas, to put up our tree and start listening to Christmas music. And I’m not. I’m not expectant, hopeful, or filled with joy. Instead, I’m struggling this year. I miss my Gramp, and I know my Gram won’t be putting up her tree this year, that their house will be vacant, that she’ll be entirely unaware of Christmas at all except when we show up and tell her. I’m brokenhearted because people continue to be killed every day around the world, in bombings and shootings and accidents, and I feel powerless to help. I’m incredulous because people mustered all the moral outrage to freak out about corporate coffee cups but can’t find any compassion for poor ones wandering the earth without a country or a home or a place to lay their heads. I’m weary and worn and sad because our world needs something very powerful to save it. 

Unfortunately, twinkling lights and festive cocktail recipes are not going to improve our situation.

This, this is the world into which Christ came to save us.
We don’t need that grace any less today than we did then.
And that’s what Advent is for, actually.

So, I won’t apologize for the late start over here this year, nor for the much-needed silence while I worked this stuff out in my brain. I’m just going to start Advent on Sunday. And I’m going to use Advent to get ready for Christmas.

Tomorrow, gather up in the dark. Notice how early it comes, how it fills the corners of the room, how it coats everything quietly. Sit there a while. Then, light a candle in the dark. Push it back a little if you can with your tiny ring of light. Sit some more around the light and feel how much we need Christ. And then wait for Him to show up.

Come, Emmanuel. We’re not ready, but we’re waiting.

Ready or not, Advent is here, and I’m going to be posting photo prompts on Instagram again for #HolyLens this year. I’d love it if you joined us. The little community of intrepid photographers seeking the sacred in the everyday as we prepare for Christ’s coming has been such a blessing to me each year. Look for the prompts posted here on the blog on Saturdays during Advent, and join us on Instagram and Facebook. We’re excited to be sharing prompts with the Blessed is She community this year using the hashtag #projectblessed.

Advent, Our Lady of Guadalupe

Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe {playlist}

Happy Feast Day! Our carnitas are cooking slowly in the crock pot, and I’m baking our traditional biscochitos. It seemed like a good occasion for some festive music, so I made a playlist to share. Enjoy! Un buen fiesta to you all- how are you celebrating?


(If you aren’t celebrating today’s feast, why not add it to your calendar for next year? I am giving away a copy of Haley and Daniel Stewart’s newest book, More Feasts!  It is a great place to start if you want practical ideas, recipes and activities for celebrating the feasts of the Christian year. You can still enter to win by leaving a comment on this post. Then you’ll have the carnitas recipe, too.)