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