Tag Archives: Advent

An Early Christmas Gift

I feel so very happy – like I have received an early Christmas gift.  Since a week ago Friday, I have had events – both social, and spiritual/church-related (and even better, combined – whoopee) – which have rejuvenated my spirit.  This may not sound like a big deal to you, but it is a very big deal to me.

Last Christmas, my family was dealing with the loss of my husband’s long-time job.  I was not feeling very merry.  My children were not feeling very merry.  We were looking to the future with trepidation and fear.  So what did I do?  I closed myself off to the people I cared most about.  I responded an instant “no” to the Evite of my dear friend Cathy who hosts a lovely Christmas brunch, chock-a-block with incredible Christian women from our parish.  I am sure I also said no to my awesome “boozy” friends who wanted to celebrate with a glass or two of Christmas cheer.  Hey, all are welcome in this place.  We are all God’s children.

This year, despite the recent loss of my dear mom, and my funk of not only feeling poor physically but also feeling perennially behind the eight ball logistically, I said “yes” to more than my usual invites.  It even surprised me, as social as I like to think that I am.  The MMPG Christmas meeting at Pam’s house inspired me to honor my mother who just passed, my parish’s Life Teen Special Needs group reminded to me to dance as if no one was looking, and my Marist Love & Logic ladies group said we are all in this together – no matter what our children’s age.  I also encountered in this small space of time:  my friend Cathy’s gathering of “incredible Christian women whom I seek to emulate,” my former Bible Study’s rock star moms who foster newborns while raising their own families, and lastly – an amazing group of women at my parish “Walking with Purpose” who reach out regularly to moms like me with welcoming invitations to “come and seek.”  That’s a lot for a week during Advent.

Wow.  I feel loved.  I feel recognized.  I feel like someone is seeking my miserable, “Debbie Downer” company.  I feel like even when I am a horrible hermit crab, tucked inside my shell and so barely wanting to venture out, someone wants to draw me out and interact with me.  That feels so great.  What a beautiful reflection of God’s love during this season of Advent!  The second week of Advent the theme was “Love,” as we lit the second purple candle

 “Love is knowing that someone cares for us more than themselves.  Love is the realization someone would lay down their life for us.  Loves involves commitment, and commitment involves sacrifice and time.  God loves us beyond any human love we have ever experienced. Love can be ours this Christmas as part of The Christmas Gift.”

 Source:  St. Brigid Advent program

I leave you all with a note of thanks for those who have invited me (and others who may be like me) to partake in fellowship even though I (or they) may seem like a huge buzz-kill some days (not exactly the most Christian words, but hey, they fit).  I strive to reflect God’s glory, even in my challenges, even in my family’s challenges.  Thanks for continuing to invite me to be a part of your world.  It means the world to little ‘ole me.  I also promise you, that reaching out to others will reap the same fruit.  Keep reaching out to those who are difficult or challenging. To the neighbor who drives you crazy.  To the widow on your street who is always complaining about something.  Love, Love, and Love some more.  Even when it is so, so hard.

“Lord, I love you and know in spite of everything I can depend on your love for me.  As I encounter times that are rushed, even crazy, I will repeat the phrase, “I love you, Lord” to remind myself that I cannot do everything alone.  When my chores, holiday preparations, and gift-buying overwhelm me, and I face more darkness, I will turn to you and your LOVE.  You will point me towards The Greatest Gift that awaits me on Christmas.  Amen.”

Source:  Brigid Catholic Church Advent 2016 Program

 

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What? Advent? Already?

Advent has completely and utterly snuck up on me this year.  Maybe it was the unseasonably warm weather.  Maybe it was being sick a good bit of November.  I turned around, blinked, and it was the end of November.  I’m not sure where the last few months went, but here we are, already in Advent.  Needless to say, my halls have not been decked.  In fact, I can’t even get to my Advent wreath or calendar, let alone the Christmas decorations, because my Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations are on the floor blocking my way to the closet.

Not only am I not physically ready for Advent and all that the Christmas season brings, I am definitely not spiritually ready.  I always say “this year will be different.”  This year I’m going to be better prepared so that I can actually enjoy the season and my family more.  This year I’m going to have healthy spiritual habits during Advent so that I can focus on the real reason for the season.  This year I’m going to be more joyful.  And the list goes on.

Tomorrow is the MMPG annual Christmas meeting hosted by the mom of a Marist alumae.  Her house is lovely, festive, and inviting.  Year in, year out, she always graciously hosts all of the MMPG moms – current and past – with a warm smile and an open heart.  It is her gift to the Marist community.  I am hoping that our hostess, the speaker, and all the other moms will inspire me to finally embark on my Advent journey.  I might be getting off to a late start this year, but better late than never.

One of my favorite blogs is “Blessed is She.”  As a gift to myself this week, I am sharing a letter from the editor that echoes how I have felt in years past during the Advent season, and I hope that you consider taking on her call to action.  I am going to try.  And then I better hop on the Christmas train that has left the station without me!

Adapted from Jenna from http://www.blessedisshe.net

Every single Advent, I get caught up in the vicious cycle of buying presents, feeling frustrated that I’m not a Liturgically Amazing Catholic Woman, compare myself to what others have done or not done for the season and for Christmas.

And by the time Christmas comes around (hello! the birth of our Savior!), I am sucked dry. I am empty. I am frustrated that I didn’t get *all the things done* like I wanted to. Or my gifts aren’t thoughtful. Or I am not in a peaceful state AT ALL to celebrate this joyous and incredibly important day.

I almost come to a point of saying, “I hate Christmas and all the stress it adds to my life.”

But if I’m being honest, it’s not Christmas that I hate. Not even close.

I hate how I act during the incredibly important four weeks leading up to Christmas. I hate the Jenna that comes out and is irritable and frustrated and impatient and all the yucky things that we hate to admit we’re acting like.

Ultimately, I dive into every Advent with a chip on my shoulder — I think to myself, This season will be so awful.

But then I make myself stop humming and hawing, and I think:

He constantly offers me another way.

He constantly waits for me to wake up from my pity party of irritability and to see HIM.

He constantly beckons me, kindly, lovingly, with the fading trees and the quiet, dark nights.

It is peaceful outside, at night, in the winter. But it is far from peaceful in my heart.

It is peaceful in relationship with Him. But I am walking in with a chip on my shoulder.

Time to throw off that chip.

Time to dust off the dirt of despair and to soak up the peace of winter, the calm of the season that I so desperately need renewal in.

So, this Advent is the one. I am in a place in my life where I want to build a deeper relationship with our Lord. I have a desire for it, I yearn for it, I long for it.

Do you?

Barn vs. Inn

We are barreling toward the fourth week of Advent and only a few short days away from Christmas. The anticipation of the younger members of our families is palpable. The halls have been decked, presents have been bought, and we have been making merry with family and friends. Or maybe we are completely behind, which is just fine as well. No judgment from me, I can assure you. Don’t open my spare room.

But in the hustle and bustle of the season, have we made room in the stable of our hearts for Jesus?

I found a great reflection called “Inn Expectations and Barn Reality” I wanted to share. I love this title because for many years I’ve had unrealistic expectations about what can be accomplished during this season. I want the inn, but end up with the barn. I have learned, however, that I can make all the homemade cookies I can think of, but my daughter still loves the Pillsbury ones with the reindeers on them that you just pop in the oven.

I also have to remember that the barn was cozy and intimate, and filled with love. So maybe your house looks more like the barn than the inn right now. Like being pregnant, the baby arrives whether you are ready or not. And Christmas is coming, whether you are ready or not. Fortunately for us, Jesus is ready and waiting to be a part of our lives if we let Him in.

“To fully experience the joy of Christmas, we must fill our weeks of anticipation with the spiritual fruits of our faith. Serve others. Pray for others. Give to others. It all comes down to these four questions:

Are we preparing the internal manger?

Have we paved our spiritual road to Bethlehem?

Have we tempered our inn expectations to the barn reality?

Are we wrapping the people we love in swaddling clothes stitched with prayer?

You and I? We get comfortable with what we have and what we do. We act like the tax collectors and the soldiers, asking more of others than we ask of ourselves and throwing out judgment with nary a thought as to how it affects others. And every year, Christmas comes around and reminds us that all we have, all that we are, and all that we do comes from one source—a tiny baby in a manger, who grew into a man, who saved us.

So, prepare the feast, give joyfully and decorate your home with beauty. But don’t forget to do the same for your heart. After all, that’s what He desires most.”

Adapted from “Inn Expectations and Barn Reality,” by Kathryn Whitaker, www.blessedisshe.com

Stress Comes Next Week. Or Not.

For some reason, I do not have the anxiety and stress that usually accompanies my Christmas preparations. I do not have a single reason for this, other than the Holy Spirit has already given me a well-needed, pre-Christmas gift. We were out of town after Thanksgiving (and spent some wonderful time as a family), so nothing got decorated – until the last few days. Christmas cards have not even arrived to be signed and sent, but I’m OK with that. I have gifts yet to purchase and not a single one wrapped. My Bible study met this week, and instead of reviewing what we were supposed to, we listened to our friend whose brother was just diagnosed with cancer. Who really cared what was on the to-do list?

Does that mean that I am not going to be a crazed lunatic next week? No. I can pretty much guarantee it as I prepare for three separate family gatherings that I will be hosting. But I’ve been given a gift this week, so I’m thankful for it. In fact, as I put up decorations today that I haven’t been able to put up the past few years because I haven’t been healthy enough, I was nothing but thankful over a few strands of garland and a red bow.

In that spirit, instead of writing something myself, I am using the beautiful words from a website I love called Proverbs 31 – and I’m thankful yet again. I have a little table full of angels by my back door, which makes this even more appropriate. Thank you Lord for this website and the insight of its authors, which is giving me the gift of peace of mind, heart, and time tonight. 

The Most Important Christmas Choice

“Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.’” Luke 2:13-14 (NLT)

Tis’ the season to be merry… and stressed. Although it should be a season of peace, this month can often make us feel more tangled up inside than a messy string of Christmas lights.

Some people dread the hustle, bustle, and emotional rustle this time of year brings, knowing that irritability, loneliness, or depression will threaten. While there are others who may love the Christmas season, but worry, busyness, family conflicts, and unmet expectations take their toll.

In either case, we have a decision. We can choose to get bogged down with stress or we can choose to bow down in worship.

Scripture gives us a beautiful picture of praise in Luke 2:13-14. When Jesus was born, an angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds sharing the good news. Then many other angels joined together and praised God.

“Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.’” (NLT)

That’s not the only place the Bible records angels worshipping the Lord. In Hebrews 1:6 it says, “And when he brought his supreme Son into the world, God said, ‘Let all of God’s angels worship him.’” (NLT) And Revelation 5:11-12a says, “Then I looked again, and I heard the voices of thousands and millions of angels around the throne and of the living beings and the elders. And they sang in a mighty chorus.” (NLT)

Angels serve as role models of worship. They bow down before Jesus. They shout with incredible joy as they sing songs of praise. Through worship, angels spread the news of God’s glory and exhibit holy reverence. Angels intentionally and deliberately spend time praising God.

Keeping Christ in Christmas is more than just a cliché. It is an intentional act of worship. It requires a heart of adoration, much like the angels had. When Jesus is the focus of our holiday, we’re centered on His love, peace, and joy.

This prompts us to be His hands and feet to others in need. When worship fills our hearts, it leaves little room for aggravation in long lines at the store. We focus on what Christmas is truly about—the amazing gift of a Savior—rather than stressing out over buying the perfect presents. We exhibit grace to someone when we’d rather do otherwise. Worship turns our attention to giving thanks to Jesus for all He has done, rather than letting stress strip His joy from our hearts.

And it might even mean joining in with the heavenly chorus to sing praises to Him, even if we can’t carry a tune!

The holidays can bring a flurry of heightened emotions and can often result in an unhealthy level of stress which can prevent us from engaging in worship and praising the One we are supposed to be celebrating.

There will be lots of choices to be made during the month of December: where to serve, what gifts to buy, and how many events to attend. The most important choice we can make is to worship and sing praises to our Lord. For His gift. For His love. For His peace.

And when our hearts are at peace, our holidays can be too.

Lord, I choose to intentionally worship and praise You during this Christmas season. Help me stay focused on You and Your goodness. Amen.

 

 

 

Time and Trust

My family and I were very blessed this past weekend to spend our first Sunday of Advent in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Our celebrant and homilist was Cardinal Timothy Dolan (woo hoo!). He was warm, welcoming, and inviting, and his homily hit very close to home for my husband and me. I know I cannot do it justice in my own words, but I’ll give it a go.

Cardinal Dolan talked about Advent as a time of “patient waiting.” He talked about how the Israelites – the chosen people of God – waited 400 years for the coming of their Savior. He then mentioned how you and I can be impatient in our waiting. We can be impatient with others (an elderly family member, waiting at the checkout at the grocery store, or even getting out of the parking lot after Mass) or with ourselves (just when am I going to finally lose this weight?). He then talked about God’s time. Not my time, not your time. God’s perfect timing. We as humans are like microwave ovens – “I want my pizza heated, and I want it now.” God, however, is more like a crock pot – thinking in millennia – not months. When we as humans pray for an answer, we may pray for months, years, even decades. God answers in his perfect time.

God’s timing leads then to the concept of trust. If my timing is not being met, then I suppose I have to trust that God’s timing and God’s plan is perfect. I must trust in Him, and not in myself and my little plan for my life and the life of my family. Instead of, “Me, me, me,” it should be, “Him, Him, Him!”

My very feeble life experience has shown me that God’s plan is always better than anything that I can imagine. I’ve also been told that God answers prayers in three ways:

  • “Yes”
  • “Not Yet”
  • “I’ve got a much better idea.”

So I continue to try to trust. And my husband continues to try to trust. We wait (and wait) for God’s perfect timing. We currently and patiently wait for the feast of Christmas – when God’s perfect plan for the world came to life and brought the Good News to us all.