Tuesday, December 23, 2014

This is December 23.

It looks like this.

The tree is up, and there is music softly playing.

We finished all the O Antiphons, 

but there are somehow still three links left on our Advent chain.

Oops. We must have missed one.

There is a pile of wrapping still to do.

There are dishes in the sink.

There are multiple loads of laundry to fold and pack into variously-sized suitcases.

There's a baby on my lap, asleep.

And I'm curled up on the sofa under a blanket, having spent the last 37 hours with a wicked bug of some kind, complete with chills, fever, and general unpleasantness.

Every Type A bone in my body is telling me to get off the couch. Get moving. Do more. There's baking I'd intended to do. I just need to clean the counter where the leftover baptism cake is sitting, and put away the instruments and music from our wonderful singing party this past weekend. 

And somehow, I can't move. I'm tired and achy and I just want to rest.

I'm not ready for Christmas. 

I don't know why this surprises me every year. 

One year, I was a new mom, with a not-quite-three-month-old baby, and I wasn't ready.

Another year, I had barely three-month-old twins, and I wasn't ready.

This year, I have a sweet newly-baptized four-month-old, and I'm sick in bed a few days before the big celebration, and again, I'm not ready. Despite all my lists and charts and schedules, there is still so much I wanted to do that is left undone.

I wonder how many times I need to learn this lesson? When am I going to figure out that Christmas doesn't depend on my being ready? 

Jesus showed up long ago to an unprepared mother in the middle of a stable because he was ready. It was time...the fullness of time, a God-ordained moment. Ready or not, Christmas is coming...and I can't hold it off with my worries of being unprepared any more than Mary could have held off her labor that first Christmas night. 

Fortunately, as I keep telling my oldest son, Christmas isn't about the presents, wrapped beautifully or otherwise. It isn't about the cookies I haven't made or about having a perfect dessert to bring to our third family gathering of the Christmas celebration streak.

Jesus was born in a manger, and he doesn't care about any of that, any more than my own tiny baby boy does.

What babies need, and what Jesus needs, are willing arms. Open hearts. A little bit of space in which to grow. Love.

And despite the mess here today, I think we can manage those things.

Come, thou long-expected Jesus. Even if we won't ever be ready, we are as ready as we can be.

Friday, December 12, 2014

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.)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Feasting on new traditions...{book giveaway}

Things just smell better this time of year- have you noticed that? It isn't just at home, either...the whole world smells like snow and cinnamon and tinsel. As we travel back and forth, traversing interstates and country roads to visit family, even gas station bathrooms are nicer, somehow. Some combination of music and lights and cookies and hot chocolate (with or without the special grownup additions) seems to put almost everyone in a good mood.

I suspect that a big part of the reason we love this time of year is because of its traditions. We are designed for shared ritual, and during the "holiday season," our culture experiences that like no other time of year. I've written before about my friend's family, who says that if you do something once and really like it, it's a tradition (and if you do it twice, you're stuck with it whether you like it or not). During the Thanksgiving-Advent-Christmas season, there are so many special foods and activities that we do every year. Rituals and shared meals abound.

Choosing to live by the rhythm of the liturgical calendar gives us the opportunity to live with special traditions and foods all year long. There are feasts to be celebrated during each month of the year, not just in November and December. We get to expand our shared rituals and feasts to the rest of the months of the year, and there is always something to anticipate.

But how do we do that? How do we begin to explore all the feasts and traditions?

Haley and Daniel Stewart of Carrots for Michaelmas have created another resource to help us embrace the feasts of the liturgical year in a manageable way that is easy to implement. Their first book, Feast!, is a great introduction to observing the feasts and seasons of the church year. In their new book, More Feasts!, they expand this idea to include the whys and hows of celebrating the feasts of saints. The Stewarts write beautifully about how living liturgically can enrich both your spiritual and your family life. With 10 new delicious-looking (gluten-free) recipes, reflections and activities for families, More Feasts! makes me feel excited about the chance to create some new traditions with my family in the coming year.

I love that these books come from a home that is truly living out this rhythm in a creative, vibrant way. This is not a hypothetical guide. This is a real-life, tried and tested experience of one family who has found a way to make the rhythms of the church year an integral part of how they live out their faith as a domestic church.

You can get More Feasts! exclusively at Carrots for Michaelmas for $3.99 right now (plus an extra 25% off through December 15 with the code HAPPYFEAST). The original book, Feast!, is on sale for $4.99 during Advent (it's usually $7.99).

Do I have to be Catholic? Aren't these feast days a Catholic thing?

No way. The church year belongs to all Christians. The saints included in the book are saints in the  Catholic understanding, but their stories are worth reading no matter your faith background. Haley does a wonderful job of explaining this in the book. And besides, everyone needs a good sushi recipe.

I'm so overwhelmed by all of this. How will I be able to do it all?

You won't. Don't try. Just pick one or two feasts that appeal to you and try them out. As you develop traditions, your celebrations will grow and maybe increase in number. The important thing is to do what works best for you and your family.

Is there a print copy of the book? I don't have an e-reader.

The first volume, Feast!, is available here in print for $21.99. Right now, More Feasts! is in e-book form only, but it's a pdf file. You can download it right to your computer. No e-reader is needed.

The Stewarts have generously offered a copy of the new e-book to one of my readers. If you'd like to win, tell me about your family's favorite tradition (any tradition!) in the comment box below. I'll choose one winner randomly on Saturday.

Check out the other stops on the More Feasts! blog tour this week- everyone is excited about this book!

Fine print: the giveaway is open through 11:59 pm Eastern Standard Time on Friday, December 12. Winner will be chosen randomly by a drawing. This giveaway is open to all - no geographic restrictions, since we don't have to mail anything!

Monday, December 8, 2014

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.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Why you MUST read Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting {giveaway}

There are two major difficulties in the vocation of parenting small children. The first is that it can be isolating. We weren't meant to raise children in a solitary fashion, and so often, our modern lifestyle of separateness makes for long days without adult conversation. The second problem is the very long-range nature of our work. We do many of the same things day in and day out, totally absorbed in the minutiae of parenting and caring for our homes and families, unable to see over the crest of the hill we're climbing to visualize the eventual product of all this work. In short, on a bad day, parenting can feel lonely and fruitless.

In Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting, Laura Kelly Fanucci offers a spiritual lifeline to the struggling, lonely parent...not by cheerleading from the sidelines or by offering peppy "you can do this" comments, but by imbuing the very basic physical acts of parenting with deep sacramental meaning. I wept more than once as I soaked up her words, feeling solidarity and a sense of community with her as a mother both in her most joyful and darkest moments. Through the lens of her family's experiences, Laura shares glimpses of God's presence in the midst of ordinary, everyday moments: birthing, bathing, eating, watching fireflies.

"Through the tangible things of this earth- water, oil, bread, and wine- God comes to us, giving us what we need when we open our hearts to receive...Because sacraments do not exist apart from the complexity and diversity of our daily life- they are part of it."
- Laura Fanucci, Everyday Sacrament

It's a rare person who has the insight and wisdom to see beyond a situation in which she herself is immersed. We might expect such perspective and wise counsel from a parent who has already survived this tough period of life in the trenches with little ones, but Laura has the gift of being able to see and describe the beauty of her life right in the middle of the mess. In bravely, honestly sharing that beauty with us, she blazes a trail through the chaos of young motherhood, even while she herself is still navigating it. 

Reading her stories helped me to see anew the fingerprints of God's grace all over my own messy, sometimes mundane life. There is holiness here in the laundry and the spreading of peanut butter, the kissing of boo-boos and the wiping of noses. Those repeated rhythms remind us that God is constant and faithful and never absent from even the most ordinary moments in our lives.

"The creation story says the Spirit hovered over the chaos of the waters, close to the murky mess. And if I'm honest, even as I indulge in late-afternoon daydreams about escaping to the lake to meditate, this God-in-chaos is the God I meet more often."
- Laura Fanucci, Everyday Sacrament

This is a book to be read and read again. It helped me extend grace to myself, my husband and my children and reminded me that God extends grace to each of us as we work at the holy task of raising our families and creating domestic churches. I need more time to let Laura's words sink in deeply. They have already impacted how I parent and how I pray.

"Before I had kids, I never expected any of this- how God could be found so powerfully in the exasperating everyday, how home could feel as holy as church...but that's how grace gets spilled: right before our eyes.
If we only stop to see it."
- Laura Fanucci, Everyday Sacrament

You need this book- for yourself first, then for all the other parents you know. You can get it from the publisher here or from Amazon here (that's an affiliate link, by the way).

I loved the book so much that I want to give one of you my review copy. To enter to win, just leave me a comment here with a memorable parenting moment from the past few weeks  (good or bad, your choice!). I'll randomly draw a winner on Saturday.

The fine print: Giveaway open to US residents only. Entries accepted until 11:59 pm Eastern Standard time on Friday, Dec. 5.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Ten virtues of Mary: Universal Mortification

When someone as lovely as Olivia writes and asks if I'll write a post for her series on Marian virtues, I find a way to say yes. Even if she asks me to write about Universal Mortification. Even if I really have no idea what that is.

When the time comes to actually write that post, I realize with increasing discomfort how oddly fitting it is that I've been tasked with this particular virtue.  

Mortification can be described as the practice of being the master of one's own impulses. Sometimes, people practice exterior mortification, through physical penances like fasting. These acts are meant to prayerfully unite us to Christ, who suffered for us. The idea is that by suffering in small ways, we can better imitate Christ and become more like him.

Other times, mortification is interior...putting someone else's needs and feelings and preferences before our own. 

Either way, mortification is uncomfortable.

And universal mortification, the virtue I'm to write about, means we are supposed to do this mortifying stuff all.the.time.

I am the very worst at this. Even when I manage to convince myself to do anything remotely mortifying, I moan and groan and complain so much that I wring all the opportunity for virtue right out of it. I've convinced myself that God never wants me to suffer or be uncomfortable in any way. Never mind that suffering and discomfort are part of the human condition. Never mind that my vocation as a mother of small children includes consistently placing the needs of others ahead of my own. Never mind that complaining is not, has never been and will never be a virtue.

Ever since I was a little girl, I've been sensitive. I don't mean just that my feelings get hurt easily. I mean physically sensitive. Every seam in my socks, every tag in my shirts, pillows that were too firm or too soft, food that was too chewy or too gelatinous, any of it could really bother me and ruin my day. Bright or buzzing lights. Loud sounds. Strong (or even faint) smells. Having anyone touch my hair. When any of these things happened (pretty much every day), headaches, itchy skin, and fretful feelings followed.

As an adult, I'm a better master of my overactive physical sensory system. Or maybe I'm a better manager of my environment. At any rate, I don't have to be so uncomfortable any more. No one can force me to wear a shirt with an itchy tag. Once I was living on my own, I set the thermostat where I wanted it, used only unscented detergent, slept on perfect pillows, and always had the most comfortable spot on the couch.

But then I became a mother. Suddenly, my own physical comfort was not the most important thing. You know how the sleeping baby is pressing on the nerve in your arm and your arm goes all pins and needles but you won't move because you don't dare wake the baby? Or how you're still hungry but there are only three peanut butter crackers left and you give them to your three little ones instead? Or how you reallyreallyreally have to go to the bathroom but your potty training three year old is about to have an accident and you cross your legs as hard as you can and let her go first?

Maybe you do.

I'm guessing Mary knew about these things, too. She accepted an unplanned, divine pregnancy that would ostracize her from her friends and family, then rode a donkey on a long journey to Bethlehem when she was very, very pregnant. She gave birth in a stable surrounded by animals, alone with her husband, away from home, and probably no one brought her any orange juice afterward.This alone seems like an excellent start to a life of accepting discomforts without complaint as a way of serving Jesus.

Did little Jesus ever throw his scrambled eggs in her hair? Or spit up down the front of her robe? Did her arms ache from holding and rocking his sleepless little wiggling body when she could barely keep her eyes open?

These are nearly universal experiences of mothering.We suffer through these little things, putting our children's needs and comfort before our own, because that's our job. When I do these things, though, I often sigh heavily. I roll my eyes. I wish internally that my kid would give me the last cracker. I bark at her to hurry up because I really need the bathroom. I might be the master of my physical impulses, just barely, but I'm far from mastering my heart's impulse to gripe about the sacrifices I'm making.
Mothering is ripe with opportunities for mortification, and being a mother has probably eliminated the need for me to wear a hair shirt. But I could stand to do a much better job of bearing the small (and large) discomforts of mothering with grace.

Mother Mary, I want to imitate your virtue of universal mortification. Inspire in me a desire to put others' comfort before my own, at least sometimes. And if I can't rejoice in suffering, help me at least to stop complaining about it so much.

This post is part of a series on the Ten Virtues of Mary, hosted by To the Heights and running every Tuesday until the middle of December. So if you need some help in the virtue department, here’s a great place to start! ;)  

October 7 – Introduction to the Ten Virtues of Mary – Olivia of To the Heights

October 14 – Lively Faith – Molly of Molly Makes Do

October 21 – Blind Obedience – Kendra of Catholic All Year

October 28 – Constant Mental Prayer – Jenna of Call Her Happy

November 4 – Heroic Patience – Kelly of This Ain’t the Lyceum

November 11 – Profound Humility – Carolyn of Svellerella

November 18 – Angelic Sweetness – Regina of Good One God

November 25 - Divine Wisdom – Britt of The Fisk Files

December 2 – Universal Mortification – Abbey of Surviving Our Blessings

December 9 – Divine Purity – Gina of Someday Saints

December 16 – Ardent Charity – Christy of Fountains of Home

December 17 – Massive GIVEAWAY at To the Heights – Just in time for Christmas

Sunday, November 30, 2014

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.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving {a playlist}

I made this playlist just for you. (Really, I made it for me, because we have to drive some distances with our kids in the car in the next few days, and we need real music to keep us from going crazy. But I'm sharing it with you for your traveling, or your turkey basting, or your pie baking, or your pajama dance party, or whatever you're up to.)

Happy Thanksgiving. I'm grateful for you. Thanks for sharing the journey with us.

Monday, November 24, 2014

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:

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. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Five-Minute Friday: Notice

You're in your blue period now, we say, by which we mean you'll methodically cover almost the whole paper with all the different shades of ocean, turquoise, cornflower and navy you can find, leaving a deliberate white border around the sides.

Your outfits always begin with your socks- usually the yellow striped ones, if they're clean (usually a tantrum, if they're not). It's hard to change your mind once you've made it up. You always make your choices on purpose, and you can't be hurried. You know what you want, and you move toward it with the determined, plodding focus of a marathoner at mile 24 of a race...never rushing and unwilling to be distracted by anything.

Sometimes, I want nothing more than to push you out the door in my overwhelming desire to get us someplace less than 15 minutes late, but you are solid, sister. You take your time, carefully putting on your purple sparkly sneakers and your striped mittens and your red-white-and-blue star-shaped sunglasses. And just when I think I can't wait one more second, you pause, lifting your head with a curious, delighted look on your face, cocking your ear toward the lilac bush.

"Mama! That's a chickadee!" Your chuckle crinkles the corners of your eyes as the black-capped bird takes flight.

I never would have noticed.

I have to kiss your head, sweet girl, and remind myself to move over into the slow lane with you. You're on the scenic route, and I don't want to miss any more of it.

For more Five-Minute Friday, visit Kate's blog.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

When yes is no and no is yes

I chronically overpromise.

Maybe it's the dark side of being an optimist. I always hope to have more time, more energy, more resources than I actually end up having. I want to do more, be more, and create more. I feel I have a lot to give, so I want to give it. Then an opportunity comes up that seems perfect for me, I say "Yes, I'd love to!" and end up running around like the proverbial chicken trying to find my keys and one of my kids' shoes and mittens that match for everyone on the coldest day of the year.

(I know, the chicken was looking for his head. The thing is, it's a lot harder to find keys, mittens, etc. if you also can't find your own head. And that's how I felt today.)

Do you ever have days where the ordinary everyday stuff seems too much to handle? When deciding what to have for breakfast and getting it on the table is going to completely overtake you? Or when putting that load of laundry in and starting the washer is such a monumental task that you might just fall in the washer along with the clothes and end up drowning during the rinse cycle? I'm not sure what it was today...everything just seemed hard. During the throes of lunch and nap and accompanying tantrums from overtired kids, I realized I'd forgotten last night to soak the beans for our dinner tonight. The idea of having to do the "quick soak" method and set them on the stove to simmer before I could lie down for a rest was so overwhelming that I texted my husband and asked him to bring home frozen pizza for dinner.

Sometimes, I think overcommitment is almost expected of us. Our priest even talked about it this week in his homily. If you do well with the obligations you already have, people will ask you to do more things. You can sing in the choir? Great, we'll ask you to be a lector. You used to teach preschool? Oh, wonderful, we'd love to have you be a scout troop leader! I look around and see I'm far from the only one doing so many things and being so overextended that I can barely scrape myself off the couch at the end of the night to go to bed.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we put so much into our lives that we exhaust ourselves trying to keep up? If we run ourselves completely ragged doing all these good and worthy and important tasks, do we even have room to remember the reason we're doing these things in the first place?

Is there ever a time when saying "no" to commitments means saying "yes" to more space for God?

After I took a nap with the baby this afternoon, I still felt overwhelmed. Responsible Me said I should put Felix in his swing, turn on some music, and tackle the chores I hadn't finished this morning. I was dragging myself and the baby swing into the kitchen when Nora appeared at my side, eyes big.

"Do you know what is a really good snack?" she said, a smile forming in the left-hand corner of her mouth. "Something flat and kind of soft but kind of crunchy. That involves oatmeal. And chocolate chips."

"You're asking me to make cookies?" I sighed.

She wrapped her arms around my leg and squeezed me. "No. I want to help you make some cookies."

And you know what? I said Yes. Forget the chores. Forget the fact that I haven't posted on my blog in a month and that the sidebar still excludes the existence of my now three and a half month old son. Forget the hats that haven't been knitted even though it's 24 degrees today and the meals that haven't been planned and the floor that really needs to be mopped. Let's go make some cookies.

So we did.

And while God wasn't telling me explicitly to go bake cookies today, I think He'd be glad I did.

Let's not get so busy with all the have-to-dos, even the really good, worthy, well-intentioned ones, that we forget to make room for the spontaneous encounters and experiences that really make life worth living.

Like warm cookies with chocolate chips eaten with smiling three-year-olds.

And licking the spoon...because I said "yes" to that, as well.

Today is the big release day for Lisa Hendey's new book, The Grace of Yes. It's all about cultivating the virtues that help us to say "yes" to God in our lives. I'm only halfway through the book, but I'm loving it so far. Lisa weaves her personal story with wise advice. Reading her book feels like having coffee and seeking counsel from a warm, faithful friend who shares from her own experience without telling me what to do. You can check out The Grace of Yes: Eight Virtues for Generous Living on Amazon.com...and be sure to look for all the stories people are sharing on social media  today with the hashtag #GraceofYesDay.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. A small portion of your purchase made through those links supports Surviving Our Blessings at no cost to you. Thanks for your support.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A work in progress...{fall decor}


Fall is my favorite.

I unapologetically love the falling temperatures, the early-darkening sky, and the pumpkin-flavored everything.

Other than Christmas, fall is the only time of year that I really change anything in our home and call it decorating. This year, I've been a bit busy with other things (three people in diapers, for example) and hadn't thought much about decorating yet. When Bonnie of A Knotted Life asked me about participating in this blog carnival, I thought it would be a good incentive to get things done.

It turns out it was a good incentive to get things started.

Hey, it's okay. I'm a perpetual work in progress. My surroundings may as well be, too. Things are constantly evolving around here. As our lives unfold, we add to our decorating...cut flowers from our yard, acorns from a hike, painted pumpkins from our annual pumpkin painting party, our Thankful Tree around Thanksgiving, banners and art created for various saint days.

I like pretty things, and I like to see beauty around me during the day. I could spend lots and lots of time hunting for seasonal baskets and rugs and throw pillows that are just right at TJ Maxx and Tuesday Morning. I love flipping through Pottery Barn catalogs, finding amazing tea cups in antique stores, and buying candles, picture frames and potted plants. I love arranging and rearranging things in our home.

But this isn't a decorating blog, and there's a very good reason for that.

It's because I like things to be perfect, and when I get caught up in making things look exactly the way I think they should, I can forget that my family lives here (and that they have other priorities than making sure their bath towels are all hanging evenly and with appropriate spacing). Our house is warm and welcoming, but it's not ever going to look like a page from Southern Living. Most of the surfaces are covered with books...between homeschooling, George's grad school books and general reading, we have a lot of them around. There are too many Legos and sippy cups without lids. There are always toys and shoes and superhero capes on the floor in most of the rooms. We pick them up throughout the day, but the kids move them around as they create elaborate adventures and storylines. When I watch them play, I'm thrilled that they use so many different pieces and loose parts in their play. When I stop watching the play and start focusing on the mess instead, it just stresses me out.

What I really need to feel calm about the state of my house are pockets of peace- little spaces on which I can rest my eyes when they are overwhelmed by the rest of my life. These focal points can help keep me sane when the books are overflowing their baskets and the Playmobil guys have taken over the bathroom sink again. Realistically, any decorating I do needs to be out of reach of the smallest people and on a surface that isn't going to become part of a stop-motion dinosaur film. (If we had a mantel, it would fit this purpose, but we don't.)

Realizing I need to narrow my focus to create these pockets, I put my energy into decorating the top of our piano this season. At SuperSam's request, we also worked together on a garland of fall leaves to hang in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room. Finally, I made a wreath for the front door. (We always have a wreath. I like to make them, and I change them seasonally. Sometimes that's all I do, but we do have a wreath.)

Here's the one I made for fall this year:

I'm not thrilled with it yet- I think I'm going to add more fabric flowers around the D. (I'm excited about my new magnetic wreath hanger, though- no more Command Hooks falling off at odd times!)

The other easy place for me to change things is our table. This is our family at Michaelmas dinner. We've kept the centerpiece the same...cloth with leaves, sticks, pinecones, stones and other found objects. This will evolve, too, as we go on nature walks and the kids add their treasures to the table.

The final part of our seasonal decorating is our book basket. The books rotate with the seasons, and so does the basket. I just recently replaced the white one that held our summer and beach books with this one, full of our fall favorites. (Notice the piles of seasonally inappropriate classics, a huge green Bible and a few other random books just hanging out on the table. We could really be running a library if we could keep the books in order on a shelf.)

Seeing the children grab books from the basket and curl up on the sofa together makes my heart happy. Really, this is what it's all about for me...creating a place that's warm and welcoming for the people I love to do what they love. This is our space to be together and live our lives. I had fun adding a few fall touches to it, and I'm happy to share them with you...as long as you remember that there are three giant totes in my kitchen filled with hand-me-down clothes to be gone through and several baskets of laundry in the hallway that need to be folded and spiderwebs above the door on the front porch that should really be swept down and some toothpaste smeared on the hall bathroom door.

It's okay. This is my life. If you stop by, I'll clear a spot at the table and make you some tea, but I can't guarantee that I'll have vacuumed the floors.

For more fall inspiration, check out the rest of the blogs participating in the carnival!

A Knotted Life


Fountains of Home

This Ain't The Lyceum

Mama Needs Coffee

House for Five

Team Whitaker

Two O's + More

Clan Donaldson

Better than Eden

Monday, September 29, 2014

Our first Michaelmas. (It's all about the carrots.)

I don't know how it is that we have never before celebrated this feast. It has been on my list for years now, but we never seemed to fit it in. Maybe it is because it follows the big "birthday season" of late September, when our three oldest children have their birthdays. Maybe it is because it falls just before the feast of St. Therese, my patron, on October 1. Whatever the reason, we just haven't made it happen.

This year, we finally did it. We pulled it off. We had a lovely Michaelmas Feast of the Archangels.

This feast feels like a kickoff to fall, which is my favorite time of year. (I say that about lots of times of year, but I mean it the most about fall. Really.) It celebrates the three archangels mentioned in scripture: St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael. For more information on the tradition of the archangels, here's a great article.

We had a roasted chicken with red potatoes, these whiskey-glazed carrots, and blackberry cobbler. I meant to make a salad...there should always be a green vegetable...but I didn't. (It was fine, Mom. No one died.)

The cobbler and the chicken were delicious, but this feast is all about the carrots. You must try them. I could drink the sauce with a straw- it is that good.

The children each colored a picture of one of the archangels (these coloring pages from Waltzing Matilda are lovely if you don't want to draw your own) . Sam read the traditional prayer to St. Michael and a prayer to St. Gabriel and St. Raphael. We decorated the table for fall and added three angels from our nativity set (which, thankfully, has a host of angels). It wasn't complicated, but it felt festive- a perfect opening to a season of warmth and good food and celebrations.

A friend of mine growing up had a saying in his family: If you do something once and you like it, it's a tradition. (If you do it twice, it's a tradition even if you don't like it.)  I liked both the saying and the family, so I adopted it for my own.

We all agreed that we liked Michaelmas quite a bit, so that does it- it's our newest family tradition.

For more Michaelmas, try these links:

History, prayers and relevant readings about the Feast of the Archangels at Women for Faith and Family

Traditions, food and some great art at Two O's Plus More (where I first learned that I have been pronouncing Michaelmas incorrectly)

The recipe for the amazing whiskey-glazed carrots from The Pioneer Woman

Ideas for a family Michaelmas from Molly at Molly Makes Do

Kendra's crazy fun-looking devil piƱata celebration at Catholic All Year

A great overview of Michaelmas with traditional menus (and a legend about the Devil spitting on blackberries) from Haley at Carrots for Michaelmas

A video interview on Michaelmas of Haley by Bonnie at A Knotted Life (where you can hear Haley use the correct pronunciation!)

Archangel coloring pages at Waltzing Matilda

Prayers, recipes and activities for the Feast of the Archangels at Catholic Culture


Friday, September 19, 2014

Five-Minute Friday: Hold

I haven't found much time for writing here recently, partly because of some other writing projects and partly because my hands are full (as people keep informing me). I'm sharing at Blessed Is She today about our identity as Christians and our response to fear and darkness...please go check it out (and subscribe to the daily devotions if you haven't already- you can have beautiful reflections on the scriptures in your inbox every morning!)

If you're new here, welcome- I'm so happy to have you! I haven't written as much lately with the arrival of our new baby, but I hope you'll look around and enjoy your stay.

And now, for the little bit of writing I can manage, here is Five-Minute Friday. (For those unfamiliar, Five-Minute Friday is writing for five minutes in response to a one-word prompt. We don't overedit or worry about perfect composition. It's great therapy for perfectionists and a way to silence your inner critic. Then we share our posts with a community of writers so we can encourage each other.)

Today's prompt is Hold.

“You’ve sure got your hands full.”

Yes, I hear you. Yes, I do. They’re full…so full that I drop things. Sometimes it feels like trying to carry a load of laundry without a basket. Socks keep falling out, leaving a trail down the hallway from the dryer, evidence of all the small feet and mismatchedness around here.

They’re full, too, of crayon pictures and homemade play dough and favorite books (and always juggling requests to read that one again)…of card games and sidewalk chalk and Lego bits and pieces everywhere.

It’s too much to hold, really- too much for a pair of hands and arms that sometimes ache with their fullness. There’s a baby to burp and a dishwasher to unload and three sets of scraped knees to bandage. There are swings to push and curls to comb and tiny teeth to brush, and while the days feel incredibly long, there never seems to be enough time to do it all. How I long for an extra set of arms, or for bigger hands to help bear the weight.

There’s strength, though, in remembering that this is my vocation. I am called and chosen for this work, and as with any vocation, it is not reliant on my power or abilities. My work is mine, but my strength is God’s – and it is He that holds me in His hands, along with all the dishes and the laundry and the mess and the joy…and He won’t drop any of it.

For more Five-Minute Friday, head over to Kate's blog.

Monday, September 8, 2014

how I (almost) ruined Mary's birthday

When I opened the pantry this morning, there wasn't enough flour. I could have used a boxed mix, but there wasn't enough milk left after breakfast to make the frosting, anyway. 

I texted George to bring home some dessert. You can't really have a birthday party without dessert. Under my breath, I told Mary I was sorry and trusted she would understand.

After all, she is a mother. The Mother of Mothers.

I should have been more prepared, I thought, but I forgot until yesterday at Mass, when I remembered it was coming in early September and made a note to check the date- what day is today, anyway?- as we straggled in to find seats during the first verse of the opening hymn. We ended up in the overflow, in the daily Mass chapel, just under the watchful gaze of Mother Mary. She stood tall, holding her smiling Son, the picture of competent Motherhood.

I thought she looked a little disappointed in me.

As my kids flopped around in the pew, kicking each other and repeatedly dropping their books, I tried to keep myself together. It had been such a long week- the kind of week where everything just feels too hard, like forcing pieces into places they weren't meant to fit. Tears pressed and pricked the backs of my eyes. 

What am I even doing? I asked her, pulling Lucy out from under the row in front of ours. I'm not cut out for this.

Then suddenly, today was here and it was Monday again, and I had forgotten to remember that today was her birthday. As I picked up the dirty clothes and hoisted a crying child onto my hip while patting the fussy baby in the sling with my other hand, I felt it again.

I'm not doing a good enough job at this mothering thing.

The crying child, who turned out to have a fever, was clingy and weepy all day. She couldn't hide her frustration that I had a baby and two other children to tend to, also, and told me, "I wish you only loved me for your baby." The first-grader resisted all requests, refused to help clean up the books, and wouldn't sit in his chair at lunch time. I bounced around the house, singing, rocking, cajoling, encouraging, sweeping, wiping, and generally trying to keep the chaos from getting out of control. 

There was no chance of bringing order today. Today was a survive the chaos kind of day.

I tried to remember the me of a year ago, the one who wrote thank you notes promptly, ran lots of miles during nap time, and blogged about her family's humble celebrations of liturgical feasts. Now it was Mary's birthday, and we were having spaghetti with sauce from the jar for dinner and I couldn't even bake a cake.

Forget cake. I couldn't even get the dishwasher unloaded.

George got home with the box of spaghetti and the store-bought cupcakes. Sam painted a birthday picture for Mary "with her symbol and her color," he said, and solemnly taped it to the wall. I jiggled the baby and cleared away our school day and threw together a salad, and we gathered around the table. It was Nora's turn to choose the blessing, and our voices all joined together in her favorite: "Bless us, O Lord..." 

I studied all of their faces, and I was grateful.

I wasn't magically less tired or less overwhelmed.

I didn't instantly feel hopeful and bright about tomorrow.

I wasn't suddenly enthused about the potentially sleepless night ahead of me with the fussy baby and the feverish girl.

But into the back of my mind crept a friend of mine- a friend beloved of Mary, who says that Mary always gives you a gift on her birthday. Although I didn't remember asking for anything, I realized that I had already received it.

I had been sustained. Somehow, I made it through this day. I didn't yell at anyone. I kept everyone fed, changed, wiped, soothed, and safe. I made food and served it and cleaned it up. I washed and folded some clothes. I taught and read and sang and prayed. It wasn't perfect, and the bathrooms didn't get cleaned again, but I survived.

This feels like a gift....maybe a gift from a mother to her daughter. 

Thank you, Mother Mary...and happy birthday. Maybe I didn't ruin it, after all.

Monday, September 1, 2014

right words, right time

I have a real love for post it notes. I love all the types and sizes and colors- the giant pad ones that can stick on the wall for leading group discussions all the way down to the teensy pink and orange flag ones sticking out of my hymnal to mark the songs I need to play next. Writing things down helps me remember them better. I keep the visual post-it note cue around, too, just in case, but usually the act of scribbling the words on that bright paper and sticking it someplace is enough to fix the information in my mind.

I've always been a post-it note person when it comes to scripture, too. I remember my mom's old blue bedroom curtains, covering the window where we always stood in the mornings for her to fix our hair, and the faded yellow post-it note she had pinned there with a verse she wanted to remember:

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.  --Ephesians 3:20-21

I followed her example, dutiful Sunday School pupil that I was, and wrote down the verses that I liked as I encountered them, posting the little yellow squares on the back of my bedroom door and around the edge of my mirror. As I grew, special verses seemed to show up at just the right moments, and I kept writing them down. By the time I left for college, I had a vast collection of neon paper squares decorating my car, my windows, my bathroom mirror, my desk and my computer monitor. There were verses I'd found encouraging, verses that comforted me, verses that reminded me of special people who had loved those same words or who had given them to me as exhortations at some point in my journey. I took a lot of them with me to school, and in my shared hall bathroom freshman year, I still posted a verse on the wall every week because I needed to see it there.

Lately, I haven't given as much thought to scripture. I read Bible stories with my children, and I try to go over the Sunday readings before Mass every week. (Mostly, this is because there's a good chance I won't hear them clearly when they are read at church and I'm juggling my children, a picture missal, several board books and a handful of ballpoint pens...sometimes, we're standing for the Gospel reading before I realize I haven't heard the Old Testament or the Epistle at all).

Maybe I am just distracted. Maybe I'm not paying enough attention. Maybe I just don't have as many encounters these days with people who quote Bible verses at me. Whatever the reason, I was surprised last week when the perfect verse showed up at the perfect time. In the middle of a tough day, I parked my three bigger kids at the lunch table and slowly walked with Baby Felix to the mailbox. Inside, I found a card from my cousin and her husband with a little blue baby buggy on the front. The message inside was crafted with the perfect combination of humor and support.

And then there was this:

There in the card, in my cousin's handwriting, the words of St. Paul to the church in Corinth had met me where I was, in my pajama bottoms at the mailbox with a fussy baby and a sinkful of dirty dishes waiting inside for me...the right words at just the right time.

These days, my hands are full, and my brain is busy, and I don't often find the time for in-depth Bible study like I used to enjoy, sitting with parallel texts and my seminary-trained husband and talking for hours about which Greek word was used there and what it could have meant in context. Right now, post-it notes with verses on them are about all I have (and sometimes, they need to show up in my mail box for me to pay attention!). Maybe you can relate to this. A lot of us are busy, but we still want to be able to read scripture and ponder it in our hearts.

That's why I am so excited to be involved with a new project called Blessed Is She.

Blessed Is She gives each of us a chance to reflect more deeply on scripture through short daily devotions written by faithful Catholic Christian women from different walks of life. Each devotion will be based on the day's scriptures in the lectionary. You can follow along on the facebook page, on the web site, or even subscribe via e-mail to have the day's reflection sent directly to your inbox...what could be easier? For those of you who love Instagram, some of our group are posting daily images with the verses there, also. It's kind of like a post-it note, really...only a lot more beautiful and less likely to stick to the bottom of your shoe.

Like this:

You can also follow Blessed Is She on Twitter. There is a Twitter chat scheduled tonight (September 1) at 9pm EST- follow along with the hashtag #blessedisshe.

I'm honored and delighted to be keeping company with this group of women as a writer for this project. I'm also grateful to have this opportunity to encounter the words of scripture and let them take root in my heart as I go about my life. Then, whenever my hands feel especially full, my heart and mind will be full, too- full of the right words at the right time.

I hope you will join us on this journey.