Pink Candles and Presents for Jesus

Yesterday marked Lily’s favorite day of Advent, because we finally lit the pink candle! She has been waiting all of two weeks for this event. She loves pink, and I love this week, too, because in the midst of a penitential season, we get to get excited for the coming of Jesus! The pink candle is for Gaudete, which means a time to rejoice!

It’s also time to get serious about preparing for the coming of Jesus. For Timothy, who’s 4, this is hard. He counts down the days until Christmas, we light the Advent Wreath, we talk about Jesus. And he knows Christmas is supposed to be about Jesus, but all he really wants to do is talk about presents. He already has wrapped many of his own toys and put them under the tree because he is so excited about presents.

In fact, last night, he was complaining about not wanting to eat dinner. Then, all on his own, he motivated himself to eat by telling himself if he ate his dinner then he could open a present under the tree. A present that he wrapped himself, of a toy he already owned. But he ate his dinner!

As parents, we must try to stay focused on the reason for the season. I know many parents do sacrifice beads, or have their kids put straw in the manger when they do good deeds to make a nice soft bed for Jesus. But straw just doesn’t seem that soft to me, and making a bed for Jesus hasn’t been all that exciting of an idea for Timothy.

So, enter presents. We have a video called, “The best present of all is Jesus.” And a book that says we give presents to each other because it’s Jesus’ birthday, and he gave us the gift of himself. And the Magi brought presents for Jesus. And my favorite Veggie Tales of all time, “The Toy that Saved Christmas,” talks about how Christmas isn’t about getting, but about giving. So what can we give to Jesus at Christmas? Timothy thinks He would like a train. And He probably would, right? But what else can we give? We can give our hearts.

Back in high school, I wanted a practical way to give my heart to Jesus as a present. So I cut out a bunch of hearts, and every time I did something good or avoided something bad to love Jesus, I put a heart in a little present box. Then, by Christmas, I had a box full of hearts for him. Since we would get to Mass early, I stopped in the chapel and offered my box of hearts to him. I did this several advents, unbeknownst to anyone else. But now, I would like to share my idea with you, as in these last two weeks of Christmas it could be a great way for you, your children, or your whole family to really get ready for the coming of Jesus by preparing your hearts as a present to Him.

We started yesterday, but Timothy seems pretty excited about it!:

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I’ll be happier when…

When I was in high school, I used to think that I’d be happier once I got to college.

And, I was actually right. But then, I started thinking, “I’ll be even happier after this paper is done, or I pass this class, or I have a boyfriend, or I find a job.”

After college, I thought I’d be happier once I had more kids in youth group, or once I was married. And then, it was once the baby was born.

Then, once the baby was sleeping through the night. Or stopped nursing, or was done teething, or could walk.

I’d be happier if I quit my job, or had a new job, or stopped having kids. Or if we had more money. Or I could get one night of uninterrupted sleep for heavens sake! It seems there is always something standing in the way of my happiness. But am I searching for happiness, or joy?

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I’ve been painting these Saint Peg Dolls of Maximilian Kolbe for a saint doll exchange. And I’ve been thinking about his life. How he spent several years in Auschwitz, giving away his meals, never complaining about the work or the beatings, and eventually spending the last weeks of his life in a starvation cell. While in the cell, he sang psalms and hymns and gave thanks to God, mediating upon Christ’s passion and praying bible verses.  Even without external circumstances of happiness, he had pure joy. And now, a saint in heaven, he experiences the fullness of happiness in every second of eternity.

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Kolbe’s cell in Auschwitz is now a pilgrimage site.

 

I went on a retreat this past weekend and realized that my life is like pointillism art. I am so focused on the dot, that I don’t step back to see the whole picture, the whole beautiful masterpiece that God is creating out of all the dots of my life and my children. I don’t have that eternal perspective, but I want to. So this week I am praying with this Scripture where Jesus says:

“So you are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts with rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you. On that day you will not question me about anything. Amen, amen, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you…ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.” John 16:22-24

Even in our day-to-day circumstances, we can find joy instead of chasing after fleeting happinesses.

St. Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us!

You’re Doing A Great Job

I take great comfort in knowing that Mary and Joseph lost Jesus for 3 days. I imagine their conversation went something like this:
M: Joseph, where’s Jesus? I thought he was with you.
J: no…I thought he was with you.
M: NO….I told you to make sure he doesn’t dally.
J: Oooohhhh, I thought you said that’s he’s with Aunt Sally….

So they retrace their steps and of course he’s in His Father’s House, a 12 year old prodigy on all things torah-related.

But could you imagine losing your child for THREE DAYS? Oh my goodness. I’ve lost my children in my own house for 5 minutes and almost had a heart attack.

I’ve had some time to reflect on the Holy Family, given all the recent feasts since Christmas: Feast of the Holy Family, Feast of Mary, Mother of God, and just this past Sunday, the Baptism of Jesus.

And I’m taking comfort in knowing that not even the family of God was without it’s oddities and perhaps a certain level of dysfunction. Mary and Joseph weren’t even living together yet when Jesus was conceived. Obviously, it was to preserve her perpetual virginity that she became pregnant when she did, but think of the times they lived in. The scandal; the unconventionalism. And then don’t forget about Elizabeth, her cousin. She was PAST MENOPAUSE, people, and her husband even older than she was. And bam, a baby. You don’t think people questioned? Thought it was odd? And then to be born in a stable where animals live (the thought of the germs and the smell just kill me!). Packing up your family and running for your lives because someone wants your child dead? And then to lose Jesus for 3 days, just to top off his childhood.

Jesus! Where have you been? I've been looking for you for DAYS!

Jesus! Where have you been? I’ve been looking for you for DAYS! Don’t you ever scare me like that again!

I read a story the other day about a house that burnt down and killed a little 3 year old inside because her mom left her for the afternoon alone in her house. Heart-wrenchinging, I know. But stories like that remind me that I’m doing a pretty good job at this whole parenting thing.

A mom in my mom’s group last week asked that to our table: When was the last time someone told you you were doing a good job? Everyone was silent, and the first person I thought of was my doctor. Bless him, for telling us young mothers that. I know my husband and mom have also said it on occasion. But we modern day mothers can be so hard on ourselves. So I gave myself a little mothering test based on stories I have heard in the news.

Have I fed my children this week? Have I taken drugs around them or beaten them? Have I left them alone for long periods of time? Have I seriously neglected them or abused them? Have I buckled them in their car seat and put shoes on them when its snowing?

On the contrary, I tell my children I love them multiple times a day. I feed them a well-balanced diet and take them on trips to the museum, playground, etc. They have clothes and toys and games, and I do bathe them occasionally. We have prayer time at night and they know who Jesus is. They know their shapes, colors, ABCs. I nurse the baby on demand and change his dirty diapers, using rash cream when necessary.

Sure, I lose my temper sometimes and I yell, and I let them watch more TV than the doctor recommends. But it is winter and we have been sick and cabin fever is a real thing. So a little more TV and a few extra sugary treats to bribe them into good behavior and a “mommy meltdown” or two do not mean I am failing at being a mom. It just means I’m being human, and hey, the Holy Family wasn’t exactly perfect, either. (But close, poor Joseph.)

So I hope you take the test with me to see that you are doing a great job. Maybe I’m the first one to tell you: You are doing a great job! But even though our failings can overwhelming us sometimes, take comfort in knowing that God’s favorite way to come into a family can be very unconventional, and I do believe there’s nothing He likes more than to enter into our dysfunction and save us.

P.S. i really enjoyed these reflections on the 7 Sorrows of Mary. It reminds me that being a mother, especially for the Blessed Mother, wasn’t always easy.

Anything But Ordinary

I just saw that it’s been 3 months since my last post. And I’ll tell you why. The other week I had a thought while preparing dinner. Quesadilla begins with Q!!!! And I couldn’t believe that I’ve never seen a “q is for quesadilla” in any Alphabet book I have read to my children.

I have strict standards for what I post on here. And unless it’s thoughtful and carefully constructed, it doesn’t get posted. So that’s why there have been no posts. Plus I’ve been pounding away at mounds of to-do lists. And although I should be sorting the recycling to take later this afternoon, all 3 kids are sleeping so I’ll take a moment to sip some warmed-up coffee and write.

Write about what? Christmas. Getting ready for Christmas was so fun this year! Our newly remodeled room accommodated for a 10 foot tree. It was fun to decorate our new house for Christmas for the first time, and we even made a whole night out of hot chocolate and getting our tree at Tree Town. Prayer time around the advent wreath was one of my favorite parts of getting ready for Christmas. The story of Jesus’ birth plus blowing out candles easily lends itself to catechesis for the little ones. And when Advent was over we made a Christmas wreath with red and white candles (3 for the trinity!) and they blew that one out, too. Our simple advent prayer was, “Come, Jesus, Come!”

She only singed her hair twice this year.

She only singed her hair twice this year.

So come, Jesus, come. While it wasn’t in my top 5 of best advents in terms of personal prayer and preparation, Jesus still came. He was born into the world and into our hearts. And now today I have been taking down Christmas decorations, since the Christmas season ends this weekend. And it’s weird, because the house now looks plain. Ordinary, if you will, which I guess is appropriate since we are entering the liturgical season of Ordinary Time. But it seems too empty, like something is missing without the bells and lights and decorations.

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Jesus came. And so, our lives can now be anything but ordinary. And they should be anything but empty because Jesus is here! His incarnation sanctified humanity and the world. It sanctified the family, as his chosen means to come to earth and bring salvation. My ordinary family cannot be so plain anymore. It must be filled with the spirit and with life. But without my wreath and candles and decoration, I’m just not sure how to do that now.

The liturgical color for Ordinary Time is green. “Green is for the growing time,” my 3 year old informed me, having learned that in his Catechesis of the Good Shepherd classes. Jesus came as a baby. And maybe Jesus is still a baby in my heart, and it’s time to grow some roots this season. My youngest baby Luke, has grown up incredibly in these last 6 months (as he is now babbling and rolling and sitting up and eating solids!). So how is Jesus going to grow in my heart and in my household this year, especially during this new season of “ordinary”? That is the question I will keep reflecting on as I go sort my recycling…

Goodbye Christmas tree

Goodbye Christmas tree

Why Am I Worrying?

ImageThe priest as Mass today, reflecting on the Gospel, started his homily stating that he was a born worrier. I can relate. All my life my melancholic self has divulged in worry, guilt, and sadly, grudges. But today we’re talking about worries since that’s what the Gospel was about. And it’s a hard one for me. Listen to how Jesus starts it out:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life,
what you will eat or drink,
or about your body, what you will wear.
Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?”

Yikes! My thoughts are running through each line:

Do not worry about your life.
How are we going to manage with a third baby? Are we making enough money? Is my husband’s business going well? Am I playing with my kids enough? Are we watching too much TV? What are we going to do this week? Where do we want to be in 5 years?

Do not worry about what you will eat or drink.
Do I have enough groceries for the week? Am I within our budget? Do we have enough fruits and vegetables in our diet? Do I have snacks for the kids and to satisfy my pregnancy cravings? What am I going to feed our dinner guests tonight? What am I going to have for breakfast in the morning?

 Or About Your Body.
I feel like a fat whale. I am definitely bigger than this stage the last two pregnancies. My hips hurt. My belly hurts. I’m starting to not sleep well at night and get pregnancy acne again.

What you will wear.
Does Timothy have enough 3t clothes? Do my maternity clothes fit? Nathan doesn’t have any clean clothes? That means I have to do laundry again tomorrow? Didn’t I just do it a few days ago?

 Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
I guess so, but I sure can forget it in the daily grind of life and in all my worrying.

It seems as mothers that our main goal is to provide the corporal works of mercy for our family by feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, and I can get so wrapped up in it that I forget about providing the spiritual works as well.

I heard a speaker recount a story in which a lady in the grocery line was commenting on all her kids and asked how she was going to get all 7 of them through college. She responded, “I’m more concerned with getting them all to heaven.”

 Thus today’s Gospel ended with:
“Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given you besides.”

When has God not met my needs? When has he not provided? Many, many people have lived on less than we have, so why am I worrying all the time?

Jesus, I trust in you to provide for our family, for the new baby, for my husband’s business, and most importantly for our holiness. Help us to seek you first.

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Catholic Quick Takes from Timothy

A few weeks ago at Mass, I was taking a quiet moment before communion to talk to Timothy, my two year old, about what was happening on the altar. I was pointing out Jesus on the cross when Timothy said with a serious/sad face, “Yeah, and he died.” Surprised, I said, “Yes, he did die. But the good news is that now he’s alive! He died but then he rose from the dead, and now he lives in heaven.”  Another matter of fact response: “Yeah, and he sits with God the Father of the mighty.” Another surprised face by me. I have not intentionally told my two and a half year old about these truths, but he has picked up on them.

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Two weeks ago I decided it was time to teach Timothy a new prayer to add to his repertoire: the Angel of God. He loves this prayer because it has a nice rhythm to it, and had me say it over and over again until he basically had learned it in two days.  When it was his time to shine and pray it on his own, it went a little something like this: “To light, to guard, to ruin, to died, Amen.”  Close, but not all the way there yet.

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ImageLast Friday we went to a family Adoration at a nearby church. We made it through the whole hour! Timothy learned the words “adoration” and “monstrance.” Well, kind of. Towards the end of the holy hour the Deacon came down from the sanctuary with the monstrance and invited people to come up and kneel before Jesus and touch the humeral veil. As I brought Timothy up to the feet of Jesus in the Eucharist he started asking quite loudly, “Where’s the monster? I can’t see the monster!!”  I guess we still have more to learn about monstrances and adoration!

The good news is, we’re hoping to have lots more chances to learn. Although the kids were running around and tearing up offertory envelopes and talking loudly (Lily liked to hear her babbles echo throughout the Church), it was a family adoration. And we were there, as a family, to adore. It looked different than when I would go to adoration as a single young adult, but it was just as blessed. I want my kids to grow up knowing that adoration is normal, that Jesus in the Eucharist is to be loved and adored, and that Jesus invites us to come and pray, just as we are. And I’m learning that there’s no better time to start than now, even at the ages of 1 and 2. So we’ll be back!