Saturday, November 28, 2015

Advent: Unready.


By the tender mercy of our God,
    the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace. 
                               
            Luke 1:78-79, NRSV


Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent.

I woke up this morning to a sky streaked red and gold from the top to the bottom corners of my bedroom window, and I felt it…a dreadful, heavy sense of not being ready.

I’m not ready.

And because Advent is the new Christmas, the internet wants me to be ready. All my favorite bloggers have been discussing their Advent plans and what books they are reading and what prayers they are using and what crafts they are doing with their kids. There are recipes and book studies and so many wonderful options I can choose to make this our holiest Advent yet.

I could have already hurried up and finished my shopping, my Christmas cards, even have already made and frozen my cookies ahead of time. Today, I could have everything planned and packaged and ready to go so that I could just sit back and wait for the real miracle, the One who is the reason behind all the preparations, the baby Jesus, whose birth is still a month away.

But I haven’t. I haven’t done any of that yet.

All day today, as I continue the slow clean up and take down of our fall and Thanksgiving decorations, I keep telling myself I have a whole month to get ready for Christmas. That’s what Advent is for, right?

But getting ready for Advent? That’s another story. And for who I am, for the person God made me to be, feeling unready and unprepared and not-entirely-on-top-of-it doesn’t feel good. I’m crabby. I don’t handle my own unpreparedness with grace.

On some level, yes, we are ready. I know where the wreath is that we used last year, and I even ordered a box of appropriately-colored candles ahead of time. I hosted Thanksgiving dinner this year, and I knew I’d be ready for a break after that was over (and not ready to launch into a new season of checklists and planning just yet).






Thanksgiving was wonderful. The food was delicious. The company was dear. The post-dinner football game was the first one of its kind ever played in our yard, and everyone had a great time tackling and laughing and enjoying one another. I loved our flowers and the candles and the place cards. It was a beautiful day. And it was fulfilling for me in my checklist-loving, INFJ way- I planned, I executed, and I enjoyed.




But I’m not ready for Advent.

Maybe for some of us, maybe for me, the call to living in rhythm with the Church’s seasons is not about being ready at all. Maybe it’s about being shaped and formed, gradually, into the image of Christ…the image of the One whose Light is coming into the world, the kind of Light we need so much more than all the most beautiful strings of twinkling ones we can imagine.

Maybe Advent is not about having everything prepared ahead of time so I can focus on being holy. Maybe Advent is a gift of days, of time given to focus on how un-ready and unholy we all are, perpetually, and how much in need of grace and Light and a salvation that can never be earned but is a gift from God, so that no one can boast. Whether I am actually boasting about my salvation or just about my exquisitely decorated front door doesn’t matter. It’s shifting the focus in my heart from the One on whom it should be focused.

It’s a good dose of humility for me to realize that I’m not the most prepared, most organized person this year.

My kids are ready to jump into Christmas, to put up our tree and start listening to Christmas music. And I’m not. I’m not expectant, hopeful, or filled with joy. Instead, I’m struggling this year. I miss my Gramp, and I know my Gram won’t be putting up her tree this year, that their house will be vacant, that she’ll be entirely unaware of Christmas at all except when we show up and tell her. I’m brokenhearted because people continue to be killed every day around the world, in bombings and shootings and accidents, and I feel powerless to help. I’m incredulous because people mustered all the moral outrage to freak out about corporate coffee cups but can’t find any compassion for poor ones wandering the earth without a country or a home or a place to lay their heads. I’m weary and worn and sad because our world needs something very powerful to save it. 

Unfortunately, twinkling lights and festive cocktail recipes are not going to improve our situation.

This, this is the world into which Christ came to save us.
We don’t need that grace any less today than we did then.
And that’s what Advent is for, actually.


So, I won’t apologize for the late start over here this year, nor for the much-needed silence while I worked this stuff out in my brain. I’m just going to start Advent on Sunday. And I’m going to use Advent to get ready for Christmas.

Tomorrow, gather up in the dark. Notice how early it comes, how it fills the corners of the room, how it coats everything quietly. Sit there a while. Then, light a candle in the dark. Push it back a little if you can with your tiny ring of light. Sit some more around the light and feel how much we need Christ. And then wait for Him to show up.

Come, Emmanuel. We’re not ready, but we’re waiting.





Ready or not, Advent is here, and I’m going to be posting photo prompts on Instagram again for #HolyLens this year. I’d love it if you joined us. The little community of intrepid photographers seeking the sacred in the everyday as we prepare for Christ’s coming has been such a blessing to me each year. Look for the prompts posted here on the blog on Saturdays during Advent, and join us on Instagram and Facebook. We’re excited to be sharing prompts with the Blessed is She community this year using the hashtag #projectblessed.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

I'm aware of my lack of perspective.

For someone who processes things in writing, I know I've been awfully quiet lately. I've written lots of words, but none of them were polished enough to share. Most of my recent writing has been on a phone screen, tapped out with my thumb while rocking a nursing baby that is working on six new teeth at the same time. (One of the molars finally came in, so we're down to six now.)

I had the wonderful opportunity last weekend to attend the Wild + Free conference in Williamsburg, where rows of women poured life-giving words, hugs, and understanding into each other's hearts. Some of us were tired when we got there. All of us had our reasons for needing to be there, I know.

For me, it was the end of a couple of rough weeks of homeschooling and mothering and life in general. It has felt hard to recover after the loss of my grandfather last month...hard to come back and pick up our routine after being gone for almost two weeks, hard to motivate and encourage my kids when all I've really wanted to do is crawl back into bed, hard to choose joy when I've been overwhelmed with a sense of grouchy foreboding and a general sense that someone is standing on top of my chest.

When I arrived Friday night, the first person I saw was Sarah Mackenzie, who is one of my favorite bloggers and the force behind the amazing Read Aloud Revival. The words she shared were the kind of grace-filled truth that only comes from having done hard things. She talked about Jesus and the wedding at Cana, how He told the servants to fill the jars with water instead of just producing wine out of thin air. He did this, she said, because He always starts with what we have to offer. We are responsible for filling up the jars, but we aren't responsible for the miracle that results from faithfully doing what He asks of us. I listened to her words, and I wept as I realized anew that crazy contradiction of parenting: in the same way that I can never be enough to live up to the calling of mothering and educating my children, I am already enough.

After Sarah came The Hunts, a band of homeschooled brothers and sisters who played for us, lighting up the room with their songs and smiles. I watched them and wondered how chaotic life must have been at their home when they were all children. Now all grown up, they fill a stage and play their instruments together without any visible urges to hit each other with them. It's amazing to think this was achieved through the work of their parents and the passing of time.

Both The Hunts and Sarah got me thinking about perspective, something I generally lack. I tend to get hung up on little things, blowing them out of proportion and spiraling down until I am predicting the end of the world before lunch. As doomsday prophets go, I'm pretty boring- mostly staying in the territory of messy rooms and lost socks- but my general lack of perspective about relatively unimportant things makes me less than fun to be around sometimes.

There are all these little blog posts and articles floating around lecturing us about how we are supposed to have perspective, how we should be treasuring every moment with our little kids because before we know it, they'll grow up and be gone and we'll wish more than anything that we could step on some Legos or clean up some vomit the way we do now.

I refuse to feel guilty about my lack of perspective.

It is totally okay that I don't have the long range view here. I am so stuck in the middle of it all that I cannot. Perspective is one of those hard-earned, long-fought things. You don't get wise by rising above. You get wise by slogging through the hard stuff, the worst parts- the knock-down, drag-out sibling fights and what feels like endless waking hours and crying jags that last days.

You get it by surviving (which is exactly what we are doing, by the way).

So regardless of what the internet says, I'm going to keep on keeping on. I'll try to smile. I'll try to enjoy the moment. But if there's poop involved, or if someone falls on her face and knocks out her tooth and bleeds all over her dress and I feel grumpy about it, I'm going to be okay with that, too.

I know I don't have perspective this week, but I decided to write anyway. What I didn't do was think of asking Sarah Mackenzie to take a picture with me. You'll have to take my word for it- meeting her was a real treat, but in my typical INFJ way, I fumbled through the small talk and thought of all the things I really wanted to say to her after she had already left.

Do you do that? I love to talk to people, but chit chat is just not my thing...and there isn't often time for big, thoughtful conversations when you're meeting someone for the first time (especially at a conference). I think it would work better if when I met someone new, I just pretended it was our third meeting instead of our first.

Would that be weird?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Surviving our first lost tooth {#ThemeThursday}



Well, she survived.

I survived.

My little girl is down one tooth, but after the anesthesia wore off, she gradually eased back to her spunky, indomitable self. She even put her princess dress on again.

Her dad says she did a brilliant job at the dentist today, aided by some "silly juice" to help calm her. I was really anxious about the anesthesia, but she did great, and she's fine.

Micaela at California to Korea has resurrected Theme Thursday. For today's theme, "Portrait," I asked Lucy if she'd be my subject with her new, gap-toothed smile.

Sam, ever the helpful older brother, asked if the theme was "Jack O'Lantern."

This was her response.



Fortunately, I did get treated to her new smile after that...so you can see it, too.



Thanks for praying us through this morning. All's well that ends well. I'd say we are going to be more careful in the future, but I honestly don't know how we could have avoided this one!

What's the going rate for the tooth fairy? I think I got a quarter per tooth, but it seems like the rate might have gone up since then. Lucy has already informed me that she knows the Tooth Fairy is not real, but she'd like a visit from her, anyway.


Friday, November 6, 2015

7 Quick Takes: Halloween, The Art Department, and the Quotable Nora Edition




In the interest of keeping you up to speed on the final dressing up choices of everyone this Halloween, here is the official Halloween photo dump:

Felix as Bacchus, the Roman god who knows how to party


Lucy as A Princess, But Not A Disney One


Sam as Scipio Africanus: "Carthago Delenda Est!"

Nora as Laura Ingalls (without braids)

Obligatory Group Photo





I've been overcoming my inborn fear of art-related mess for years now, but finger paint still gives me pause. It seems like just asking for trouble. This week, when the girls asked to finger paint, I took a deep breath and said "yes." Here are the results:

"Felix thinks it's a bird, but it is NOT." by Lucy, age 4
"It's a dragon. But it doesn't eat people." by Nora, age 4


They moved on quickly to watercolor. Turns out part of the allure of finger paint is that mama usually tries to talk them out of it.

Also art-related: Nora drew a real face! With eyes and everything! It was a first.



She's been drawing people's bodies with arms, legs and torsos for quite a while now, but their heads never had faces. I'm not used to that progression- most kids I know do the big heads with smiles and then start adding arms and legs coming directly out of the heads. Nora is on her own track, art-wise, as she is with most other things.


Speaking of Nora, she's been so quotable lately that I often find myself turning my head so she won't catch me laughing. It's worse when George is here- I have to tell myself not to look at him because I know we'll both dissolve into laughter, which would definitely hurt Nora's feelings. She's a serious girl, that one, and she does not mean to be so funny.

This morning, she turned up at my side in her Laura Ingalls costume (her uniform since the middle of last week). I greeted her with a little hug and she tossed her baby doll onto the counter, saying casually, "Well, I've got my kids today. My wife's a ninja, but she doesn't stay here."

Then, over her cheesy grits at breakfast, she announced, "Hey, I guess you're in charge, Mama, 'cuz Pater Noster's at work."

I die. I just hope it doesn't show on my face. (I know. I know it does. I can't help it.)

My first-ever retraction...I've written lots of contractions, some against the better advice of my inner English teacher, Ms. Raines, who always stands inside my head and dispenses advice in her red Reebok hightops. She's never wrong, and yet I persist in my wayward writing ways. Contractions are friendly space savers. I like them.

As far as retractions, though, I haven't had to write one before (that I remember). This is a first.
I must tell you that my reporting of the Time Change-Induced Behavior Episode Involving K'nex and a Certain Boys' Bedroom Ceiling was apparently inaccurate. The child in question did not actually put holes in the ceiling. He removed all the sticky putty from the backs of his posters, smooshed it onto the ceiling in tiny bits, and used it to suspend said K'nex pieces so that they looked like they had been poked into the ceiling...as if some crazy multi-colored porcupine had moved into the attic and fallen asleep with his poky side down.

Let the record stand corrected.

Because some children are harder to live with than others (ahem), there's this amazing reflection by Susan Barico on her blog. You should read it. If not now, later. Say you will- then we can talk about it, okay? I have lots of thoughts.

I have the self-imposed deadline of Martinmas (November 11) in my head as the time by which closets should be ready for fall. That's partially because of Molly at Molly Makes Do (who gives hand-knit things to her family for Martinmas gifts) and partially because of something Kendra at Catholic All Year wrote about extra coats and St. Basil. Basically, it comes down to this- some people don't have enough. We almost always have more than enough. We especially have more than enough size 3T snow pants- they seem to have been procreating in our closet since last winter. It's time to pass some things on.

In my cleaning out, I noticed that my favorite long red coat has once again been a snack for a new crop of carpet beetles. I am beyond sad about this. Those guys were in that closet when we moved into the house, and I've eradicated them four times. They just keep coming back.

I hate carpet beetles. I don't know why God created them. I do not wish for them to be the recipients of our Martinmas sharing of coats. Any ideas?


To wrap things up, here's a picture of the most amazing Friday afternoon surprise from the most amazing mother-in-law I've ever had. Sandra, you really put a big smile on my face!



It's been a pretty difficult week, but how can anyone be frowny with a basket like that on the table?



Happy weekending, all. Now you're all caught up.
For more Quick Takes, go visit Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

It's not you. It's the time change.





For the third day in a row, my daughter has come out of her room more than ten times during what is supposed to be "quiet rest time." I finally gave up and put the baby gate up in front of her door. She's sprawled out behind it on her floor, singing at the top of her lungs, "UBI CARITAAAAS EST VERAAAAAA...DEUS IBI EST!"

Despite her very noisy serenade, my smallest son is asleep right now. The others seem unable to get back to the place of quiet rest. I hear vocal explosions and projectiles hitting the wall from inside one room, and another voice is alternately telling herself a story about hunting Care Bears and yelling "LA LA LA LA LA LA" in time to the banging of her heels on the wall.

It is anything but quiet. And I'm not sure about "Ubi Caritas" - certainly not from me, not here, not today.

Yesterday, my oldest son spent his nap time boring small holes into his ceiling with parts from his K'nex set. We found them after dinner.

The oldest three crushed up chalk and made it into "paint" with old rainwater that had collected in our fire pit. When that wasn't enough, they supplemented with (unauthorized) water from the garden hose. They wiped their hands on the walls, the couch cushions and the bathroom rugs.

Sam stabbed Lucy in the eye with a stick because she wouldn't give him the shovel she was holding.

Nora bit Lucy in the back because they wanted the same dress-up costume.

Lucy pierced Nora's ear with a pencil because Nora wanted to use that color and Lucy didn't want her to have it.

This morning, while everyone was getting dressed for the library, Lucy lost her shirt. She had already taken off her pajama top, so she was wandering the house, yelling, "Where is my shirrrrrrt? Who took my shirrrrt? I lost my shirrrrrrt!" When we got her another shirt, she couldn't find her shoes. She couldn't find ANY of her shoes. We finally left ten minutes late for story time with Lucy wearing pink rain boots...on the wrong feet.


The levels of irritability, rudeness, hyperactivity and destructive behavior in this household right now are amazing. I've never seen the like. I spent yesterday near tears, wondering where I had gone wrong in my parenting, wondering what business I have homeschooling, wondering if I should do everyone a favor and put them in school or preschool or child care and go back to work, like maybe I don't have any right to be doing this stay at home parent thing if I can't even get them to do something simple, like wash their hands for lunch. I even googled "family counselors" in our area, thinking we were so dysfunctional that we probably needed professional help immediately to avoid a total breakdown.

Today, I asked my friend, "Do you ever think about just quitting?" And she said, "Well, yes, but not right now. You can't judge anything by this week. We just turned the clocks back, so everything is nuts."

I stared at her.

She proceeded to tell me stories from her own life this week, stories of offspring gone haywire just like mine, stories of tantrums and tears and "I hate yous" and sibling fights that made all my chaos and angst this week seem...well, normal.

Thumbs up. All the weirdness you are seeing is happening to everyone else, too.

She's had a terrible week so far.
I have, too.
Maybe you are in the middle of your own terrible week- are you?

If so, please know you are not the only one who feels like rolling this overly-full trash can to the curb and leaving it there. We're all in this together. I don't know why it helps me so much to hear that other people are struggling, but it does.

So in case you, too, are struggling, please know this: It's not that we have suddenly lost all ability to parent to our own standards. It's not that our children have suddenly forgotten everything we ever taught them about how to behave. It's not that we have completely failed at parenting and our children will turn out to be delinquent, angry human beings who burn down buildings and destroy things and hunt Care Bears for fun.

It's the time change!

Standing at the Prime Meridian. Feeling very balanced.
Time is elemental. It might also be totally made up, but it matters. You can't go messing about with clocks without expecting children's finely-tuned, sensitive systems to get a bit out of whack. What we're seeing this week? It's just fallout. It's timey-wimey. It's a side effect. It's to be expected.

Next year, we can even plan ahead for it, if we remember.


Take a deep breath. Everything will settle down again. You'll see. Our children will stop swinging from ceiling fans and crashing into walls when they walk down the hall to the bathroom. They'll go back to normal, and we'll stop holding our heads with both hands and leaning exhaustedly against the refrigerator and staring at them with our mouths hanging open in shock and making extra coffee at 4pm just to get through the evening.

It's going to be okay.

Until it is, please help yourself to the leftover Halloween candy, focus on surviving, and know that you're not alone.

Y'all hang in there. All will be well.




This has been a public service announcement for concerned parents everywhere.