Sunday, November 20, 2016

Light...with heart.

“I hate this stupid church.”

With this pronouncement, my two year old beam of sunshine cast his board book onto the stone floor and proceeded to kick the back of the pew in front of us with all his might.

Meanwhile, the bishop was sealing the door of mercy a few hundred yards away.

All I could think was that I needed to walk through that door a few hundred more times before he closed it up.

*  *  *  *  *  *  * 

After the solemn Mass at the Basilica, my family drove back through Washington, D.C. on our way home. As we passed the Capitol, I noticed that the scaffolding had been removed since I had last seen it. I had two thoughts about this: 1) maybe the prayers I hurled at the building as we drove past will be able to penetrate more deeply into the walls than before, and 2) maybe the whole thing will just crumble and fall down now.




*  *  *  *  *  *  * 

As we enter this week of liturgical no-man’s land between the Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe, which ends the Church year, and the beginning of Advent next Sunday, I feel a little lost. There is no playlist or devotional guide or special set of prayers for this week, for the in-between, for the days in which we must wait to being our official season of waiting for the birth of Christ.

There’s Thanksgiving, of course, and there are things to do to be ready for Advent, too. Normally, this trips me up- I have to hurry up and get ready! so much to do ahead of time to prepare so that I can prepare properly!- but this year, I'm not anxious about preparation. There are a thousand more important things to be anxious about than whether I can find the wreath form I usually use for our Advent candles and whether anyone will give me any magnolia leaves for decorating.




The fact is, I can’t wait to start lighting those candles. I don’t care if they are just sitting on a paper plate on the kitchen table this year. I am just so done with sitting around in the dark and twiddling my thumbs. I am done with reading the news and feeling my pulse quicken and my blood pressure go up. I am done with scrolling through Twitter and Facebook, clicking hearts over here and a sad face over there and an occasional angry face on a story about a billboard in Mississippi.

I am so done with all this useless activity that passes for doing something.

Being informed is good. It’s good to know what’s going on. It might even be good to know how other people feel about it. What’s not good is feeling compelled to read four stories about the same issue to be sure I’m getting all the perspectives, then cross-checking those perspectives with the ones I follow on Twitter (which are different from the ones I follow on Facebook, so I have to check those, too). What’s not good is feeling so emotionally affected by the news stories I’m reading that I can’t muster the energy to actually get up and do anything about it.

The time for scrolling passively, if there ever was such a time, has passed. What’s needed now is prayerful contemplation of the depth of the darkness in which we find ourselves. What’s needed now is careful conversation, talking and listening with open minds and hearts in a genuine exchange of thoughts and perspectives. What’s needed now is to ask God, “What are you requiring of me?”

Things I am pretty sure God is not requiring of me:
  • a perfectly cleaned and decorated house
  • more time spent on my phone finding out what other people think about the issues of the day
  • more time reacting to those other people’s thoughts by clicking on emoticons
  • more time reading about the negative impacts the incoming administration might have on the country
  • more time reading rebuttals of those articles about the potential negative impacts
  • more time hitting “refresh” to see if there are any articles I haven’t read yet

Things I wonder if God is requiring of me:
  • deliberate steps taken to remind us that we committed to keep Jesus at the center of our family life
  • more attention to the places He is already present, casting light, restoring brokenness, making things new
  • more careful words that promote a climate of kindness in our home (instead of snappish words that spread around the anxiety I have been feeling)
  • more time spent in actual conversations with people whose perspectives and life experiences are different than mine, even if I have to go to some trouble to find those folks

I think what I’ve been lacking lately is focus.

With that in mind, I’m going to take a break from all the scrolling during Advent. I’m going to stop reading so many news stories and start looking for God in the little things that are actually in front of me in real life again. I’m going to try to find concrete ways to be Christ to my brothers and sisters, whether they live in my house, on my street or on the other side of the globe. I’m going to light candles with all my heart…because I think candles lit with heart are a good first step in battling darkness.





Candles (regardless of the amount of heart with which they are lit) do not fix problems, especially overwhelming, centuries-old injustices with complicated history and huge emotional entanglements- but they do keep us from sinking into the darkness of despair. Candles lit with heart are a rallying cry. Pick yourself up. The darkness doesn’t win unless you let it. Go out with your light and do something to make the darkness less dark.

Meanwhile, the Light of the World is still coming. All the darkness in the universe can’t stop Him. Take heart. And in the meantime, do your part to make things a little brighter.


If you’re looking for a way to focus and make things a bit brighter, come join us on Instagram for #HolyLens. Daily photo prompts based on the scripture readings for the day will start next Sunday, November 27. Take a photo as a way to find the holy in the middle of the ordinary, and share it with our community as a way to push back the darkness a little bit.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Pneumonia Silence (and a super-fast Mass Box Giveaway for Advent)

* Update: The giveaway is now closed! The winner has been notified. Thanks for entering. If you didn't win but still really want to get a Mass Box, you can use the affiliate discount code ABBEY10 to save 10% on your subscription. *


This post is about pneumonia and why I am subscribing to The Mass Box. You can enter to win a Mass Box at the end of the post or get a discount on ordering one. If you would rather not read about pneumonia or The Mass Box, I will see you again soon with a post about something else, okay? No hard feelings.)




What happens when you're a mama and all your kids get sick?

You slow down a bit, cancel what you had planned, and tend to them until they are better.

What happens if you get sick, too, and fall into what feels like a bottomless pit of coughing and exhaustion?

You quit everything that isn't essential and tell yourself you will deal with it later.

I've been thinking that if someone could create a business with a pool of Substitute Moms, she could make a lot of money. I really, really needed a sub several times in the last few weeks...someone to do a little light cleaning, put dinner in the oven and read to the kids in the afternoon for a bit so I could take a nap. 

We've been in survival mode for what feels like forever (though it's really only been a few weeks). In the middle of that, I somehow managed to pack for and pull off a family trip to Niagara Falls for George to run the marathon. When we got home, I crashed harder than ever. In my very best Scarlett O'Hara manner, I put off anything I could deal with later and crawled around the house in my comfy pants with a mug of tea in my hand. 

Later has finally come for me. I am crawling out of the hole of pneumonia (apparently something not reserved exclusively for the elderly and chronically ill, who knew?) and trying to pick up the pieces. My calendar tells me that we're on week 5 of our second six-week term of school. I think we are really only on week 2.

I have a lot of catching up to do on the laundry, my fridge should have been cleaned out week before last, my kids have been watching too much Disney Junior, and we've been eating way too much frozen pizza...but we're alive.

The thing that startled me most upon emerging from the pneumonia pit is that Advent is only days away. Not even two weeks separate us from the season of preparation for the birth of Jesus, which always throws me into a liturgically inappropriate tizzy. I have to get all the things ready right now so that I can have time to get ready! It catches me off-guard every year, but this year, I think it's worse than usual.

I know I'm behind in writing and that I owe you an update on the birthday party from last month and the big road trip we just took (which was epic). I promise to get to those things.

One thing I've been planning to share with you (that has suddenly become time sensitive in the middle of the pneumonia) is that The Mass Box is going to be launching for Advent.

Our family loved using the box during Lent, when we read the Sunday readings together from the Magnifikid magazine (included with the subscription) and then did the craft together. I was surprised to find that it is more than just a craft subscription box- it's a way to get your entire family engaged with the Sunday readings each week. In addition to the Magnifikid, the box includes supplies and instructions for a craft or activity for every Sunday and any other holy days in the month, plus coloring pages for each week. The team recommends the box for ages 3-7, but we were easily able to expand things to pull in our oldest son (who is now 8) and our littlest boy (who is now 2) because we did the activities together as a family.



I'm really excited about the Advent box for two reasons. First, it includes making beeswax Advent candles as the first craft, which is something I have always wanted to do with my kids. Second, having this box show up on my porch means I will not need to find activities for my kids to do with the Gospel readings during Advent (something I really try to do during this season). The Mass Box people have it all planned out, with a craft activity and all the needed materials prepared for every week. There's even an online video each week of Clare and her dad working on the craft together while they talk about the readings.

Even when I don't have pneumonia, I always want to do more than I am actually able to do. I have good intentions, and if I had the time and energy to carry them out consistently, I could probably come up with great crafts to do for each week of Advent all by myself. To be honest, though, I would probably not manage to make it happen every week. The likelihood of being able to actually do it increases exponentially for me because of The Mass Box. Their team has put together a solid product that saves a lot of work for families who want to engage with the readings together but find themselves short of time to plan it all out.


Having The Mass Box delivered to me with all the materials included during Lent actually helped us to spend more time reflecting and talking together on the weekends about the Sunday readings. It made a difference in how my children listened and paid attention at church, because they were familiar with the stories ahead of time. To me, that's worth the $20 cost, especially in a liturgical season like Advent where I really want to be sure this engagement is happening. (Side note: if you don't already get Magnifikid, it's a wonderful resource for kids to use both inside and outside of Mass. My oldest son has been using it for years to follow along with the Mass, and he even does the extra prayers and activities on his own most weeks. I'm not an affiliate for Magnifikid, but I love the magazine and think the included subscription to Magnifikid is a great benefit to receiving The Mass Box.)


If you're interested in subscribing to The Mass Box, you can use my affiliate code ABBEY10 to save 10% on your subscription. The code is good through December 31, but you'll want to order soon so your first box can arrive by the first week of Advent and you can be ready to jump right in. I have already subscribed for my family and am excited to get started. Knowing that at least this part of our Advent plan is covered helps me feel like I can breathe more deeply...even with pneumonia.

I have one Mass Box for Advent to give away to a lucky reader! If you want to win, leave me a comment below and tell me what you're most excited about or most stressed about with Advent right around the corner. Be sure to include your e-mail address so I can reach you if you win. This one has a quick turnaround- I need to choose the winner on Monday so you can order your box on Tuesday!- so the giveaway closes at midnight on Monday, November 14.

This concludes my brief but sincere plug for The Mass Box. I only ever write about products that I love using, and this one definitely falls in that category. I was not compensated for this review. If you purchase a Mass Box subscription using my affiliate code, I will receive a small commission...so thanks to any of you who do that!


Giveaway fine print: You must be 18 to enter the giveaway. You don't have to be Catholic. Winner will be chosen at random and will receive a code to order one free Mass Box through the Mass box site. The giveaway code expires 11/15/16 and must be used by then. Entries without an e-mail address will be considered invalid...so be sure to leave your e-mail address. Thanks, and good luck!