Advent

Advent: Jesus, anyway.

Mass started eight minutes ago.

We are still fifteen minutes away, barreling churchward at maximum velocity and talking minivan exit and parking lot strategy when I realize I’ve forgotten the book I was supposed to bring to teach my first grade class. I’ve already cried once in the car (when I realized I’d forgotten the baby sling in which I’d hold him while I taught those first graders) but it doesn’t stop me from tearing up again.
George kindly asks how he can help, and I can’t think of a single thing he can do. I’m all quavery and flushed and apologetic and just so frustrated with my performance today.

When am I going to get it together?

Being late and forgetting things makes me feel incompetent, as if I’m not doing a good job managing my responsibilities, as if I’m lacking, somehow.

George parks and we tumble out, all undone zippers and mussed hair and missing left shoes, gasping at how cold the wind is. He runs the twins downstairs to their classes for children’s church. I find seats for myself, Sam and Felix at the back of the church, under the nose of a Mary statue that is sometimes judgy. Today, she just looks downcast, like she feels sorry for me. I can’t figure out how to take off my coat and hold the baby at the same time, so I just leave it on. We catch the tail end of the Alleluia and then hear the deacon proclaiming that one is coming after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. 

Saint John the Baptist. Fellow unworthy one. He’s not what they want or expect him to be. Today his words are an admission that forces the truth upon me, snatching my breath like the brutal air in the parking lot.

My deepest, darkest fear is that I’m inadequate. My overwhelming, terrifying dread is that I’m not enough and that someone else will be able to see it. Glancing around, I jiggle the baby to distract him from squealing. The pregnant woman and her toddler…can they see it? The father and his school-aged son who keeps kicking the wall? How about the young girl that keeps walking in front of us, busily typing something on her pink phone?

When they look at me, do they see all the cracks? Can they guess that I’m about to come unglued? I quietly gaze up at the faces on the stained glass windows and try to swallow the lump in my throat, but inside, I’m telling myself to get a grip.

By this point, we are all turning and offering each other the sign of peace. Suddenly, I’m looking into the eyes of all the people I’d been sizing up just moments ago.

Jesus said, “My peace I give you, my peace I leave with you.” Look not on our sins but on the faith of your church…

Look not on our sins, Jesus. Look not on our cracks, our chips, the tangled, messy strands of our lives. Because whether or not other people can see them, you certainly can.

“Peace be with you,” I find myself saying, pressing hands and patting arms. “Peace.”

Not one pair of eyes that meets mine holds judgement. Not one hand squeezes harshly. Peace. And that’s it, isn’t it? We are all doing this, he and she and they and you and I…my deepest fears and their silent heartache and your dearest longings are all winding together toward the altar to receive him right in the middle of our mess. Our shared disaster. Our wrecked attempts to somehow do everything right and hold everything together. It’s only when things start really crumbling and falling apart that we are forced to admit what a train wreck it all really is. That we aren’t enough. That we never can be. And that somehow despite that, because of that, even, we are worth his life. He still wants us. Always and even so and still.

Come, Lord Jesus.

We really aren’t ready…or worthy…to receive you. We can’t be, no matter how many Advents we plan and execute. But we offer ourselves, what we have, as imperfect as it is. It’s yours. And since you saw fit once to be born in a stable, perhaps you can overlook our mess (which is always there no matter how hard we try to get it together) and be born here anyway. Here, with us.

Emmanuel, God-mid-mess, the one who comes and sits with us, no matter how long it’s been since we vacuumed…we need you.

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#HolyLens, Advent, feasts and seasons

Welcome to #HolyLens for Advent 2014

Welcome to the home of #HolyLens. We are focused on seeing the sacred in the everyday by taking a photo every day during Advent. This is where the weekly photo prompts will be posted. I’ll be posting the photo prompts daily on our HolyLens facebook page starting the first Sunday of Advent.

This project is about more than just taking photos. It’s a spiritual discipline, designed to help us notice the places in our ordinary lives that God is already at work. It’s inviting Christ’s presence with intention. It’s building a moment of reflection each day into an otherwise busy time of year. It is holy work.

If this sounds like something you need this year, please join us on our journey. You can share your photos on Instagram with the hashtag #HolyLens or our facebook pageour Facebook page.. Be sure to like the facebook page so you won’t miss any updates. 

Thanks for being part of our community of photo-taking pilgrims on our way to Bethlehem. Our shared experience is richer because you are a part of it.

(Prompts from previous weeks are below.)

#HolyLens, Advent, feasts and seasons, giveaway

3 ways to get ready for Advent (so you can get ready for Christmas)

Advent is coming. 

It is. It’s coming.

I always start out the Advent season feeling panicky, like I’m falling behind before I’ve even started.  Time to find the wreath and the prayer book. Time to make all the lists…gifts, cookies, cards, events. Time to start getting everything ready. I’m not even ready to think about getting ready. Part of me wants to run away down the street and not look back, squeezing my eyes tightly shut so I won’t see all the giant Christmas inflatables that are already popping up on my neighbors’ lawns.

Maybe it’s okay that I feel apprehensive. Jesus is going to be born. We’re not ready…how could we be? Having recently welcomed a baby who is not the Son of God, I’m more than aware that there’s a lot to do. We need time to make preparations, to quiet our souls, to sink into the knowledge that in the midst of all the chaos and confusion of our world, God is entering. God is going to sit down with us right in the middle of our mess, because that’s what God does.

Emmanuel. God with us. Ready, or not.

But that’s why we have Advent. We don’t have to be ready yet. This season exists to help us become ready, to bring us into a space where we can prepare.

We have a choice. We can spend the next four weeks running around and wringing our hands about the crazy that surrounds us, or we can take a deep breath, accept that it’s coming, and decide to prepare.

I’m going with the deep breath option.

If you are also starting out this Advent feeling a bit behind, these three things might help:

BISjournalcover

First, there’s the new Advent journal from Blessed Is She. This slim booklet is so lovely. It’s filled with scripture verses, prompting questions and space for your thoughts and reflections each day from the first day of Advent through Christmas. A lot of love and care went into creating it especially for you, the busy reader who wants to take time to ponder and reflect but doesn’t have a lot of time to spare. I am really looking forward to using my copy, and guess what? I have one to give away to one of you!

If you’d like to win, just leave a comment here on this post or on our facebook page with either a challenge you are facing this Advent or something you’re especially anticipating this season.

If you don’t want to wait, you can purchase a copy of the journal here or by clicking on the ad in the sidebar. Your purchase helps support the ministry of Blessed Is She (an entirely volunteer effort).

Second, I’m sharing my favorite Advent music in a playlist on Spotify. You can find the playlist here. (If you don’t have a free Spotify account, you’ll need to set one up and download the software, which is easy to do.) I love Christmas music, but in this season of preparation, I’m not ready to listen to it yet. I fill the gap by listening to Advent music (yes, that’s really a thing!) If you have favorites that would be good additions, drop me a line- I’d love to expand the list some more this year.

Finally, how about joining me in a photo challenge? I’m focusing on finding holy moments and treasuring them in my heart by doing #HolyLens again. #HolyLens started during Lent 2014 as a way to notice and share the sacred moments we find each day. I will be posting a list of daily photo prompts for you each week. Just take a picture related to the day’s prompt, post it on Instagram- don’t forget the hashtag- and share your everyday holy with our little photo-happy community. Your eyes and your photos create our shared experience, and we all get to reflect on the little bits of grace that surround us. You can follow me on Instagram here…I’m dere_abbey.

If you are not on Instagram, you can post your photos on our brand-new HolyLens Facebook page.

I need to prepare my heart and mind for the arrival of Christ. If you do, too, please join me in any or all of these things. Together, we’ll be a little community of works in progress, headed down the road to Bethlehem just as we are, getting more and more ready to receive Jesus all the time.

That’s what Advent is all about.

The fine print: The Blessed Is She journal giveaway closes at 11:59 pm on Wednesday night, 11/27/14 (so I can mail you your journal in time for the first Sunday of Advent). This giveaway is open to US residents only. 

Advent, giveaway, liturgical year

The mad rush of Advent…?

So, Advent’s the new Christmas, right? I keep feeling like we have to get started early- we need to get a jump on shopping and decorating and baking and crafting so we can hurry up and wait for Jesus to be born in as unhurried a way as possible.

“Thanksgiving was late this year,” everyone keeps saying, and I hear from other friends who keep the church calendar at home that Advent has snuck up on them. One lovely friend (who shall remain anonymous for her own protection) has even been calling it “the A-word” and forbidding people to use it in polite conversation.

Don’t talk about it yet- we aren’t ready!

The whole “get ready for Advent” thing comes from a good place. We are making a real effort to recapture a season of preparation. We are trying to make space in our lives, hearts and homes so that we can welcome the newborn Christ when He comes. It’s a good thing.
I’m not sure, though, that the mad rush is ever a good thing. 
The idea that there is a looming deadline (December 1st this year! That was yesterday! Heaven help us!) after which we must be prepared is not helping me. It makes my chest feel tight. It makes me feel like going for a really long run or adding something more festive than flavored creamer to my coffee.

I need to remember that I am the one responsible for the climate in my home. I would like to cultivate a sense of peace during this season, of quiet wonder, of prayerful expectation. If I’m running around like a madwoman trying to find my candle snuffer so we can light the wreath (or, rather, so we can put it out with due reverence after it has been lit) and barking at my kids to hurry up and finish their Advent chains so we can hang those suckers up and start counting down until Christmas, how can I possibly be creating a climate of prayerful anything? 

I think some deep breaths might help. And maybe I will go for that long run, too.
Where we are is just where we are. Thankfully, God knows where that is and is perfectly capable of finding us and meeting us there. Advent is a season of preparation…a whole season to get ready! It is nice to have some things in order beforehand, but scrambling around in a dither to make everything ready before Advent even starts isn’t really good for anyone. 
How about you? Are you feeling rushed this year? Are you overwhelmed with the preparations for the season of preparation? Or are you propped up with peace in your heart and all your Christmas cards ready to send out?

We located our Advent wreath last night and put it up, and we lit it last night (although we haven’t yet found our copy of O Radiant Dawn: 5-Minute Prayers Around the Advent Wreath, our Advent devotional). We had to wing it. Sam took the first link off our Names of Jesus chain and read it along with the corresponding verse from the Bible. We read one of our favorite Advent/Christmas books (Who is Coming to Our House?) before bed. That was it.
Even though we aren’t ready for Christmas yet, we don’t need to be. I’m feeling some peace knowing that a simple, deliberate Advent will work for our family this year. Setting a gentle pace now means we will be able to sustain it. And by the time Christmas arrives, we will be ready.
And so will you…no matter how unprepared you feel today.

I’ll be rounding up some of my favorite Advent resources here and on Facebook in the coming days and weeks, so you can check back if you need inspiration for your own preparations. You’re warmly welcomed to join me in listening to our Advent playlist to help cultivate that sense of calm (and to avoid the Holly Jolly Sounds of Lite Ninety-Eight Point Whatever, if that kind of thing gets on your nerves).

Also, you have until midnight tonight to enter the giveaway to win a copy of Feast!, the new e-book by Haley and Daniel Stewart (which is bound to help you prepare for living along with the Church year in any season) or a copy of The Legend of Saint Nicholasby Demi (just in time for the feast of St. Nicholas this coming Friday!).

Don’t forget to leave a note about your favorite Advent tradition on the Surviving Our Blessings Facebook page to enter. We will announce the winners tomorrow here and on Facebook.

Blessings during this first week of Advent. May you find exactly what you need to help you prepare your heart and your home for the coming Light of Christ.

*This post contains some Amazon affiliate links. If you click on them and end up buying something, your purchase will help support Surviving Our Blessings. If you like that idea, there’s also an ad in the sidebar that you can click through when you purchase from Amazon. This blog will receive a tiny percentage of any purchases you make. Thanks for your support!*

 

Advent, gratitude, thanksgiving

Defiant gratitude

I’m sharing at CatholicMom today about sitting in the dark and waiting for the light to show up. Sometimes, being grateful is not easy. Especially this time of year, when everything is all bright and color-splashed and merry-filled and holly jolly, it can be tough to coax gratitude from a heart that is burdened with sorrow.

Sometimes, sitting in the dark is our act of thanksgiving. Sometimes, sitting in the dark and confessing Jesus as Lord of all of it, even the worst parts, is revolutionary. In the dark, surrounded by our fears and worries, we are waiting for the One who can make us whole again.

If this is a tough time for you or someone you know (and chances are, you know someone who is struggling with a heavy load right now), this is the post for you.

Blessed day-before-Thanksgiving to you.

Advent, giveaway, liturgical year

Good news for everyone (especially the liturgically-minded)

If you have been thinking about being more intentional about Advent this year…
…if you’re curious about the church calendar and how it works…
…if you might want to celebrate a feast day here and there…
…if you have a sneaking suspicion that there’s more to celebrate than just Christmas and Easter…

I have great news for you!

Part The First:

My friend Sarah over at Two O’s Plus More has put together a lovely post with some ideas about how to begin observing the church year in your home. If you have been thinking about starting to do this, Sarah can help. She has helpful suggestions about how to move gradually into following the church calendar.

Also, Sarah is giving away a copy of A Continual Feast: A Cookbook to Celebrate the Joys of Family and Faith Throughout the Christian Year, by Evelyn Birge Vitz. (This post contains Amazon affiliate links, fyi. You’ll know them because of the big old Amazon logos at the bottom, ok?)

                                                               http://rcm-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/cm?t=survourbles-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=0898703840&ref=qf_sp_asin_til&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=FFFFFF&bg1=FFFFFF&npa=1&f=ifr
This book is a good introduction to help you ease into celebrating bits and pieces of the church year without feeling like you are drowning in saints, martyrs and candle wax.

Part The Second: 

I’m doing a double book giveaway this week!

I have one copy of Feast! – a wonderful new e-book by my friend Haley of Carrots for Michaelmas– to give away. Haley and her husband, Daniel, have put together a collection of recipes and reflections for celebrating the liturgical year at home, complete with pictures, quotes, prayers and ideas. It doesn’t end there, though. They’ve written a thoughtful and non-threatening introduction to the church year, inspired partly by their first encounters with it at their Baptist college in East Texas when neither of them was Catholic. The book is practical, realistic for busy families with little kids (since Haley and Daniel have three kids under 5), and down to earth. As a bonus, all the recipes can be prepared gluten-free. It is amazing work, y’all. (And you don’t have to be Catholic to appreciate it.)

The book is 40% off this week (until Thanksgiving)- you can get your own copy for $4.99. The price will go up after that (as it should- this is a really fantastic book!). The food pictures alone are worth the price. (They say they aren’t photographers, but the photos make my stomach growl.) Plus, there’s an adorable picture of their son with kohlrabi. What’s not to love?

Haley has generously offered a copy of her book for one of you, because she’s fantastic. Like her book.

My second giveaway book is for St. Nicholas Day, which is coming up next week (so soon, can you believe it?) on December 6. I have one copy of my very favorite St. Nicholas book, The Legend of Saint Nicholas by Demi to send to one of my lovely readers.

                                                             http://rcm-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/cm?t=survourbles-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=0689846819&ref=tf_til&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=FFFFFF&bg1=FFFFFF&npa=1&f=ifr

The art in this book is magnificent. Even if you don’t celebrate St. Nicholas Day separately from Christmas, this book is one you will want to add to your collection. (Also, you should consider celebrating St. Nicholas on his own day…it’s so much fun! At least, it is if you don’t do it like I did last year.)


To enter, please leave a comment on the Surviving Our Blessings Facebook page with your favorite Advent tradition (or one you’d like to start, if you haven’t done so yet). If you are not on Facebook and still would like to enter, leave your comment here and I’ll transfer it over for you. Two lucky winners will each receive one of the books. I wish I had enough copies for everyone.

Fine print: The winners will be randomly chosen on December 2 by one of my darling children from a basket of slips of paper. (We are fans of the old ways around here.) The e-book is a worldwide giveaway- anyone can win!- but the St. Nicholas book winner needs to be a US resident for postage reasons. 

I hope you win! 🙂

Look for more posts in the coming days on Advent and what we’re doing to get ready. In the meantime, tell me…how are you feeling about December’s quick approach? Are you charging ahead? Are you wishing you could put on the brakes? Are you somewhere in between?

Advent, faith, feasts and seasons

What if it’s too dark to see God?

Early evening these days is nearly totally dark at our kitchen table, even with two purple candles and a pink one lit in our Advent wreath. It seems darker than usual this year. The familiar fuzzy comfort of the season is absent…I feel fierce, raw, angry and afraid. I think of my sister, whose pale Alaskan sun sets early in the afternoon this time of year; after a weak attempt at climbing partway up the sky, it gives up and drops quickly back below the horizon again.

I think I know how that sun feels.

We have been working at Advent, at cultivating the calm contemplation that might be slightly out of reach for a family with children as young as ours. Every day, I’ve been listening to my playlist, reading books with my children, baking and crafting and knitting and praying to get ready. Every night, I’ve been faithfully lighting our candles. I’ve been doing a lot of explaining, helping my son to understand what Advent is all about, teaching him songs and prayers and recipes, watching him as he bites his lip in concentration during a reading, as he smiles and signs himself with a cross, as he bounces in his seat and sings, “Gaude!”.

Gaude. Rejoice. It’s what we’re supposed to be about, our task in even these darkest weeks of the year.

Since the shooting at Sandy Hook school last week, I’ve felt at a loss for words. Usually, I write about faith, about God, about how to be domestic church in an ecumenical family, about how to survive long days with little people when things feel tough. I post recipes for play dough and talk about what books we are reading. I share cooking projects and post pictures of kids painting and smiling. These are the things that make up my life. This is what I am doing, who I am being.

All of it seems so very small now.

Just over a week before Christmas, a gunman in a school in a state I’ve only driven through has thrown everything into a tailspin. Anxiety has been my constant companion, a sort of unnameable, unearned ache that makes me feel a little frantic. My lists are spiraling out of control. How many loads of laundry need to be done before we leave this weekend for family Christmas? Do we have enough toothpaste for the trip? Should I have bought more curling ribbon? Does any of this even matter?

If I’m honest, I confess that my busy-ness and listmaking are ways of dealing with the anxiety and sadness I feel…that occupying myself with batch after batch of cookies keeps me from thinking about the children who are gone, from wondering about the motives of the shooter, from scrolling through facebook to see my friends and their friends engaging in heated debate about gun control and mental health care. I’m too busy on purpose with all I have to do, even though none of it seems as important as it felt before.

I’ve been trying to write this post all week, too, without success. My best effort feels weak, like that Alaskan sun…a halfhearted attempt at helping, a band-aid offered to someone who has lost a limb. The scope of this tragedy, the enormous weight carried by the families who have lost a child, dwarfs my capacity to say anything helpful. My words are raindrops in a hurricane. There’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been said…and the storm of words is so deafening, there’s almost no point in speaking, anyway.

It’s still Advent, though. This helplessness, this sadness, this brokenness is exactly why I need to keep on keeping watch. I need to wait for God…maybe more this year than ever.

God always shows up. God is still God- unchanging, everlasting God…as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, Amen. We confess it every week in worship- we proclaim God’s God-ness every time we say the creeds that define our faith. We cannot proclaim the limitlessness and omnipotence of God in one breath and then say that God has abandoned us in the next breath.

This tragedy did not happen because God is on some big power trip about how we don’t allow God in schools. God is God, and God is everywhere. We may invite God into this place or legislate God out of another place, but God does not need our permission to exist or to be present and is there whether we confess belief in God’s existence or not. God is at school and in jail and in Wal-mart and wherever else we can imagine and in all the places we can’t imagine. It is not up to us.

(How fortunate for us that this is not a decision we are responsible for making.)

God is always in the picture, whether or not we see God. God is there, and God is always for us. We don’t always feel it, but it’s still true.

What’s more, the God I know isn’t too busy judging our cultural shift away from organized religion to cry with us. The God I know isn’t standing over to the side somewhere with arms crossed, saying “I told you so.”

The God I know is standing right with us, right behind us, sharing our pain and our fear. The God I know has God-sized hands big enough to hold all the worry and suffering and torment and anguish. The God I know has arms long enough to wrap us up and hold us close…and that God wants so badly to be with us that God Incarnate came to earth to do just that. To be with us.

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).     

Matthew 1:23

If being with us is that important, maybe we ought to pay more attention to being with each other. If God was willing to come down to earth to keep our company, then keeping company with each other is no small thing. Standing in solidarity with the families in Connecticut, even from thousands of miles away, means something. It is a confession of hope. Maybe it is as dark as we have ever seen it right now, but we will keep watch with you until the light shows up.

So we wait. We watch. We hold our families close. The people around my table, the ones whose eyes are bright in the candlelight as we eat dinner together – they are what matters most right now. And my time with them is what I have. Maybe my territory is small stuff compared to the scope of the suffering out there. But to my children, the smallness in front of us is the universe. This is their world – it’s what’s before them, it’s what they know. And my job as their mother is to help make that world the kind of place that prepares them to go out into the darkness and be lights and shine in the way that only they can.

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” And they will be. Tending little lights may feel small to me now. But only the presence of little lights- hundreds, thousands, millions of them – can push back the darkness.

It is surely dark right now. Darker than ever. Still, there’s a light. It’s growing. It’s in us, it’s in our children…and when we forget about our light or we’re too weak to shine, we can hold it out for each other. God’s still God. Jesus is still going to be born. We just have to keep watch, to sit together as we wait for the light to show up.

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.