Monday, November 30, 2009

The Advent Plan--Part II

Finding a balance between "doing" Advent and "living" Advent is tricky business. Inspired by the Church calendar, we're seeking to live out the liturgy each day during this season, which means the opportunities for prayer, reflection and growth are endless. Sounds great, right?

It's all ready prepared. People have followed this rhythm for thousands of years. And secular it is not. It doesn't even call for a single present bought or wrapped. There's no party invitation to send or appetizer to prepare. You don't even have to mix a drink. (Although, a nice hot mug of gluhwein sounds pretty good right now.) It just couldn't get any easier.

Then why--oh, why--do the most well-meaning, faith-filled and God-fearing people find themselves stressed out during Advent? Our intentions (yes, "our"--I may well be leading this brigade of Advent do-gooders) are so pure, our hearts so humble, where could we have gone wrong?

The answer is so simple, and it's repeated over and over again (now available on 300 HD channels 7 days a week beginning the week before Thanksgiving) in our treasured Christmas programing.

The Grinch knew it, "Maybe Christmas", he thought, "doesn't come from a store."
"Maybe Christmas... perhaps... means a little bit more!"

Charlie Brown knew it, ""Aaaaaugh! Even my dog's gone commercial!", he hollers after seeing Snoopy's prize-winning light display

and again when he announces, "“Linus is right. I won’t let all this commercialism ruin my Christmas..."

We watch year after year, with our eyes misting up at the pure truth behind the sentimentality of it all and then we develop a sudden and acute short-term memory loss:

"If you're to be "doing" Advent," our mind hisses, "you'd better get to doing it soon. You only have four weeks--aka 28 days--better still 672 hours--or more precisely..." You shake your head to rid it of all the small talk and decide to get to "doing" Advent right away--before it's gone.

And in the rush to do so we buy into the commercialism, the consumerism, the need to fill our every day with more. Only this time, it's with something good and deserving of our want--it's Advent. But looking for one more Advent song to sing, buying one more Advent calendar or craft, searching for that perfect prayer or story to read in order to "do" Advent simply misses the point.

In our society, one of rampant consumerism, we aren't only avid consumers of material goods. We're consumers by nature of information, of ideas and of goals. In the rush to be the one with the most, or the best, we may find ourselves so busy trying to consume Advent that we don't allow it to consume us. Against the tide of the culture, we need to step aside while the frenzy of clever thoughts and activities pass us by and we do nothing more than watch and wait.

It is in those moments of waiting, for which this Church season is specifically designed, that allow us the opportunity to step away from the rush of the secular season and into the beauty and the freedom of the One who is to come.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

First Sunday in Advent Reflection

Last year, I wrote a post for each of the Sundays in Advent. I'll be re-running them again this year and looking at them with new eyes. Mostly the eyes of a mom who is feeling overly grateful this holiday season for all of the many blessings that God has given me--most specifically the gift of His son.

Should it surprise any one of us mothers to find that such a great blessing was given to us in the form of a precious, little child?

From the archives:

Advent and Waiting


#1--Wait in a frenzied fashion for the birth of our Lord.

That's not quite what I had in mind, but somehow that's what it seems to wind up feeling like. Advent is not the peaceful, quiet preparation for the illumination of the world with the Greatest Light ever known, but rather a litany of baking, parties, shopping and visiting.

Don't get me wrong, those are all fun parts of my pre-Christmas calendar; but they are the side dishes, if I can keep my focus clear, not the main course. Last year, exactly one year ago today, we welcomed home our two Ethiopian born children, which put an end to a waiting that was so tangible it sometimes hurt. This year, we are all beginning our anticipation of Christmas together, but I can't help but miss (just a little bit, mind you) the visceral feelings that last year's waiting offered. It was a small, but effective glimpse into the reality of what years of expectation of the King, trust in the darkness, must have felt like for the Israelites.

Especially, it seems, this is true of those who still wait. And I know they're out there. I remember them when I see the face of an orphaned 10 year old girl, who is brushing away tears as her "segment" on the Waiting Kids video begins, while the voice in English says, "She's just a little emotional. She's done this several times before." It's in the voices of parents with referrals whose children, whether 10 or 10,000 miles away, cracking when they wonder, "Will they be home this Christmas?" In the parent whose child is alone, estranged, detached who longs for reconciliation, and for the child who feels the same. The mothers who wait expectantly, quite literally, to welcome the new soul they carry, and for their children waiting for them in heaven, whom they never *met* in this life.

And yet, in their suffering, they are blessed. Their waiting allows for a most precious, intimate chance to unite with Christ, turn their sorrow to Him and be ready--truly ready--this Christmas to accept the gift in the manger. And God-willing, I will remember, if only vicariously, what it means to truly wait for that which matters most.

Matthew 5:5. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Beati qui lugent quoniam ipsi consolabuntur

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Advent Plan--Part I

This Advent, in what can only be described as Spirit-led schooling, I--yes, I the inveterate planner--am throwing caution to the wind and abandoning the tightly constructed school schedules to spend more time focused on the season.

Last Advent, I decided to try and swim against the tide of a baby who was so sick she spent a week in the hospital all the while ambitiously trying to maintain the status quo of "the holidays" and school and life in general for all nine of us here on the Ark.

That was, in hindsight, a bad idea.

Regardless, God, who takes even the worst of ideas brought good out of that time. The seeds were sown in my heart for the Advent season for years to come.

Don't worry, however, I can't operate without any plan so we'll have one--just a more flexible, forgiving one, which will take us through the month of December, following the rhythm of the liturgical year and an underlying purpose to fix our eyes on that which really matters. My hope would be to maybe even have some time to document our days here with more regularity. But we'll see. As far as that plan goes--there isn't one.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Still True Today

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Five Kernels of Corn and Other Thanksgiving Plans

We're wrapping up school this week for Thanksgiving.  Today will be filled with a combination of our typical studies as well as a few extras tied into our study of Colonial America, which culminates with the study of the Plimouth Plantation.  Make sure to visit their site this week for a great, interactive program on life as a Pilgrim.  After learning about the struggles of the colonists--particularly of the Starving Time-- we're planning to add the tradition of the Five Kernels to our holiday celebration.

In Math, a few fun Thanksgiving word problems (yes, my children, too, think it odd that I refer to word problems as "fun".)  We'll also be planning a Thanksgiving menu for 12 (any arbitrary number will work, but this requires the doubling of most recipes).  The big girls will create their guest lists and select their menus.  Then, using the grocery store circulars--and a budget of $75--we'll see if we can make our planned feast happen or not. 

We've also acquired several favorite DVDs (and one VHS tape) to view between now and Thursday.    From the Inspiring Animated Heroes collection, we'll learn about William Bradford and the character traits of sharing, gratitude and leadership.  From the Dear, America series we'll watch the movie that corresponds with the diary Journey To A New World, which the big girls and I read this month.  And, of course, it goes without saying that we'll watch the classic A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, but did you know that there is a wonderful version of the journey on the Mayflower also starring the Peanuts cast?

Tomorrow, we'll be joining with several other families for a Thanksgiving prayer service and luncheon.

Wednesday is reserved for preparing the house, stringing cranberries, making butter, last minute shopping and a few favorite Thanksgiving stories:

Run, Turkey, Run
Mousekin's Thanksgiving
Cranberry Thanksgiving
Saying Grace

and a final school project using a favorite family book, 'Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving.  Each of the children will receive a plain, paper cut-out turkey with the instructions to disguise their bird before he becomes dinner the  next day.  Their clever ideas always make me chuckle. 

Then, finally, on Thanksgiving (which this year is also The Boy's 15th birthday!) we'll rise early to attend Mass and begin the day with a sense of gratitude and thankfulness for all our Lord has done for us. 

Wishing you all a blessed Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Home Again

The Boy's surgery went well. He is home and resting. Thank you to all of you who called, emailed and prayed for our family during this event. If there is anything scarier than having surgery yourself, I believe it is for your child to have surgery.

Not to mention that it's even scarier when his religion teacher makes a flip comment to the class about receiving Anointing of The Sick before surgery-even minor surgery-because "sometimes people just don't wake up from it."

Yeah, that's helpful.

But, Thank God, he woke up and is feeling much better today.

Our Thanksgiving starts now.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What a Week!

Please keep our family in your prayers. Our oldest, The Boy is having sinus/adenoid surgery tomorrow morning and we have had a nasty virus run through our house the past few days.

Specifically, pray for safe, uncomplicated surgery for The Boy and for God's wisdom and guidance for his doctor and the team who will care for him during the surgery and for a return to good health for the rest of our household.

Finally, I couldn't not let you all know of the wonderful addition to our extended family this week--my brother and his wife welcomed home their second daughter! We are so thrilled and just praise God for this blessing on our family.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Tonight's Big Show

Brought to you by God!

Willy Wonka JR. Wrap-Up

Beulah did a wonderful job in her oompa loompa role! We are so proud of her. So much so that I may actually break down and post a picture of her here...we'll see. This week is her class showcase and then we have Thanksgiving week off--only to start up again the following week. This time we're off to see the Wizard! The Boy has surgery this Friday, please keep him (and us) in your prayers. Until then, here's a clever quote to close out this weekend's show:

"A little nonsense now and then, is relished by the wisest men."
— Willy Wonka

Saturday, November 14, 2009

From Last Sunday's Sermon

Our new pastor, raised in Eastern Poland, shared the story of Irena Sendler with us last week at Mass. Do you know her story? I am embarrassed to admit I had never heard of her. An amazing group of students in rural Kansas are working hard to make sure that everybody knows her name and her heroic story:

"Fate may have led Irena Sendler to the moment almost 70 years ago when she began to risk her life for the children of strangers. But for this humble Polish Catholic social worker, who was barely 30 when one of history's most nightmarish chapters unfolded before her, the pivotal influence was something her parents had drummed into her.

"I was taught that if you see a person drowning," she said, "you must jump into the water to save them, whether you can swim or not." · Irena Sendler

When the Nazis occupying Poland began rounding up Jews in 1940 and sending them to the Warsaw ghetto, Sendler plunged in. With daring and ingenuity, she saved the lives of more than 2,500 Jews, most of them children, a feat that went largely unrecognized until the last years of her life."

He also shared the story of Abby Johnson, former director of a Texas Planned Parenthood clinic(who just recently denounced the abortion industry of which she was a part and joined a pro-life group to pray outside the very same clinic).

The two women both worked diligently at their tasks--one saving children and one destroying them--until the latter woman watched in horror a child being aborted and had a major conversion.

Each of us are given a chance everyday to choose the right thing. Will we be for God or against Him? But God has faith in our choices because God's goodness, God's love has been inscribed on our hearts. Like the women above, each day we make choices. Remember that it is never--never-- too late to choose God.

"Every child saved with my help is the justification of my existence on this Earth," she said, "and not a title to glory."-Irena Sendler

Friday, November 13, 2009

Oompa Loompa Song

Oompa Loompa Doompa Dee Do
I've got another puzzle for you...
Oompa Loompa Doompa Dee Dee
If you are wise you'll guess where I'll be...

This weekend.

For several shows.

With many small children.

By the Charlie actually owns the chocolate factory, I may fall into the 'bad egg' category.

Or be pushed---by Beulah---if I don't stop reciting lines, singing songs and rehearsing choreography from the show.

And here's the tune to the song (as if you didn't already know it) It wouldn't be right to let you out of here with out leaving this song to play over and over and over again in your brain.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Free Great Saints Coloring Book

Download our special "Great Saints Coloring Book" for your kids and tune in to Relevant Radio for our special radio event "Great Stories about Great Saints"!

Kids can learn about the great Saints of the Catholic Church and have fun coloring. Plus as an added bonus you can listen to a great, faith-filled, radio show! You can even listen online if they aren't on your local radio dial!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Advent Adventure

Did you sign up for Advent Adventure last year? We did and we LOVED it! Just fill in your email address and they'll do the rest--everything is delivered right to your computer. It just doesn't get any easier!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Colonial New England

As if I didn't need another reason to miss my native New England this time of year, we've just completed a unit on the novel The Witch of Blackbird Pond in conjunction with our history studies of Colonial America.

Fortunately, I get my monthly Yankee (no, not these guys!) fix from the magazine of the same name, which I just discovered has a wonderful website full of recipes, stories and photographs capturing the heart and soul of my beloved birthplace.

Serendipitously, we were wrapping up our unit with a discussion on the Salem Witchcraft Trials and the various theories behind the hysteria, when this month's copy arrived in my mailbox. Wouldn't you know that there was a cover story on the "Colonial Meetinghouses of New England"--exactly like the one in TWOBP and the site for the infamous trials. If you share my interest in colonial New England--or are studying this time period for school--be sure to check out the story here.

Monday, November 02, 2009

El Dia De Los Muertos

Tell me how you die, and I will tell you who you are...To the inhabitant of New York, Paris or London death is a word that is never uttered because it burns the lips. The Mexican, on the other hand, frequents it, mocks it, caresses it, sleeps with it, entertains it; it is one of his favorite playthings and his most enduring love.
-Octavio Paz, The Labrynth of Solitude

Sunday, November 01, 2009

From Sunday's Sermon

"Senator Mark Hatfield tells of touring Calcutta with Mother Teresa and visiting the so called “House of Dying,” where sick children are cared for in their last days, and the dispensary, where the poor line up by the hundreds to receive medical attention. Watching Mother Teresa minister to these people, feeding and nursing those left by others to die, Hatfield was overwhelmed by the sheer
magnitude of the suffering she and her co-workers face daily. “How can you bear the load without being crushed by it?” he asked. Mother Teresa replied,

“My dear Senator, I am not called to be successful, I am called to be faithful.”"