Heading in to the holidays with intention

Heading in to the holidays with intention

and breathe 2018-11-19 BLOGAs a kid, I often wondered how long it would be until the weekend, or spring break, or when we ate dinner. My mom advised me to enjoy the present moment, because she said time would fly by at lightning speed when I was an adult.

Of course, Mom was right. Again.

The holidays in particular are so sneaky! I mean, they happen at the same time each year, but … wasn’t it just New Year’s Eve a month ago??

At the very least, it seems like only yesterday we were brushing sticky summer sand from sun-kissed toes and checking items off back-to-school supply lists. And yet, here we are: pumpkin carving and midterm elections are in the rearview mirror, and Thanksgiving, Advent and (gasp!) Christmas are coming up fast. It surely doesn’t help matters that, long before we can say, “Boo!” retailers are hauling out Santa and snowmen and candy canes for purchase.

While this time of year is jam-packed with more nutty goodness than Auntie Gen’s famous fruitcake, Holy Mother Church, in her wisdom, encourages us to observe one day at a time by following the liturgical calendar. First comes All Saints’ and All Souls’, then Thanksgiving, then Advent and, finally, Christmas.

As Catholics, we celebrate Advent as its own season apart from Christmas — a time prayerfully to prepare our hearts to welcome the Christ Child. Here are some ways our family observes this special time: An Advent wreath sits at the center of our dining room table, and we mark the days with an Advent calendar. I try to finish gift shopping early so it’s not my focus. I write Advent cards or wait until late December to mail Christmas cards since, it’s still Christmas, after all! In years past, we’ve waited until Christmas Day to add lights to our tree and home decor, symbolizing that the Light of the World has come into the world. Baby Jesus doesn’t appear in our Nativity sets until Christmas Day. I attend an extra daily Mass, mission, or day retreat whenever I can. I personally prefer to limit Christmas music during Advent, too, although it’s quite challenging. My point is this: Whatever helps you to prepare the way for the Lord, I encourage you to do it.

Here are some upcoming highlights from the church’s liturgical calendar, including some ways to help make your celebrations more meaningful and memorable (in a good way):

Thursday, Nov. 22: Thanksgiving Day. While not a holy day of obligation, every day is a holy day of opportunity.What better way to thank and praise God for all our blessings than to spend an hour at the holy sacrifice of the Mass? Check out the Oregon Catholic Directory for the Mass schedule at a parish near you, whether you’re home for the holidays or away.

Sunday, Nov. 25: The solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Visit pbgrace.com for celebration ideas, and download their free activity called “Who’s the Real Superhero?” Remembering that Jesus is King over everything is a wonderful way to celebrate the last Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Friday, Nov. 30: feast of St. Andrew, Apostle. Today begins the Christmas Novena, a prayer traditionally recited 15 times each day until Christmas. Our family has prayed this novena in years past; I think we’ll resume the practice this year.

Sunday, Dec. 2: Advent begins! Say a prayer before you light one purple candle in your Advent wreath. “Light the Advent Candle” and “The Whole World is Waiting for Love” are simple songs I remember singing as a child. Your local Catholic bookstore and the Holy Heroes website have a wide variety of Advent resources and activities for your family.

Thursday, Dec. 6: While not officially on the church calendar, many families celebrate St. Nicholas’ feast day. Traditionally revered as the real-life inspiration for Santa Claus, St. Nicholas fills our children’s shoes with small treats and golden coins. There’s a fun Veggie Tales movie about St. Nicholas you likely can find at the library. Find a kid-friendly story about this saint online, and share with your little saints-in-training.

In part two of this holiday series, I’ll cover ways to commemorate the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (12/8), the Second Sunday of Advent (12/9), the feast of our Lady of Guadalupe (12/12), the Third (12/16) and Fourth (12/23) Sundays of Advent, and the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ (12/25). I might even write about how you can extend the celebration of the Nativity of the Lord through the 12 days of Christmas. Or perhaps I’ll succumb to a long winter’s nap. Either way, I’d better start looking for our Advent wreath. Dec. 2 will be here before you know it. But first: Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

This article first appeared in the Catholic Sentinel

photo by Max van den Oetelaar used following unsplash guidelines

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These children will be the death of me.

These children will be the death of me.

We’ve been having a difficult time getting going in the morning. It seems like, no matter what I do, somebody (and by somebody, I mean the 3-year-old and/or the 11-year-old) throws a wrench into the flow, everything gets all jacked up, and we’re late for school. Uh-gain.

Anyone who has tried to get more than two people ready and out the door by a certain time each morning knows just how crazy-making it can be. This particular cross is a legit reason, in and of itself, to homsechool, in my humble opinion.

Anyway, in an effort to retain what thread of sanity I have left and to hopefully improve my blood pressure, I’ve been working on streamlining our routine for the past couple of months. Here’s what we’ve been doing:

  • Clothes are selected, backpacks are packed, lunches are mostly made, and shoes and jackets are located THE NIGHT BEFORE.
  • Breakfast is over at 7 o’clock sharp, unless you’re age 3 and under and just woke up.
  • The three away-from-home school kids each rotate through dressing, teeth-brushing, hair-fixing, and last-minute lunch prep after breakfast. We have a rule that no two kids may be doing the same thing at the same time, because that’s just asking for trouble.
  • I help the 2-year-old and the 3-year-old get breakfast and get dressed, unless, by some miraculous occurrence, I can get one of the older kids to help.

The above plan has been working-ish, but we had a major problem this past Friday morning resulting in me falling on the garage steps and sniffling all the way to school and texting my husband that, yet againSOMETHING HAS TO CHANGE!!!!!

After talking it over with my other half, the new routine was implemented today: all schoolkids must be dressed and have their lunches completely made before they eat breakfast. And Mommy is in charge of the babies, as usual. Sounds promising, right?

Except … today our schedule was hijacked because … wait for it … I had to go to the bathroom.

What was I thinking??!

Mere moments after I put the 11-year-old in charge, the 3-year-old was running full tilt up the stairs into my bathroom with her eldest sister in hot pursuit.

Man. Someday I will be able to toilet in peace.

Anyway, I will spare you the gory details, but the end result was me, blood boiling, fake-smiling my way through buckling car seats, and pretty much yelling at the older kids regarding listening and caring and helping. Yeah. I get the irony.

I think I might have asked them if they wanted me to suffer from a heart attack and die. Not my finest moment.

Once the kids were safely off to school (five minutes late, but who’s counting?), I texted my BFF and said, “I never knew how far from holiness I really was ’til I started having kids.”

There’s just nothing like having to wake up early after a restless night’s sleep to feed, clothe, corral, nurse, transport, educate, negotiate, soothe, bathe, train, love, discipline, and nurture five sweet, demanding, unbelievably loud and infinitely beautiful little souls to show you just how doggone self-centered you really still are. Especially when the kid who just had a rough time at the doctor’s office wants your snack. After he’s already eaten his.

But I digress.

Having children is like turning on a ginormous spotlight and putting a big, fat mirror in front of your face while hearing a voice sneer, “Neener-neener! You thought you were getting it all together, but this [insert crazy stressed Mom behavior] is how you really are!!”

Reflecting on the tumult of the morning and my response to it, I thought, “These children will be the death of me.”

I sat with that thought for a moment ” … the death of me …” It sounds simply horrible, doesn’t it? Perfectly wretched! But, upon further reflection, I considered what those words really meant and figured, THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I NEED.

Anything within me that isn’t love needs to die: the despair; the pride; the selfishness; the anger; the need to control; the fear of failure; the ego-centrism; the entitlement; the lack of gentleness, generosity, and compassion. Just like a really good clearance sale, everything must go.

The Bible tells us that God prunes those whom He loves. And to get to the essence of who I am as His child, to be more a more perfect reflection of Him, I must be pruned. A lot. Which means He must love me an AWFUL lot. Because the pruning? It often feels terribly awful and horrifically painful. Because those who bear the pruning sheers aren’t always gentle, and I’m not always (okay – hardly ever) predisposed to receiving the trimming I need.

But my Heavenly Father knows me well enough to know, as I like to joke, that it would take these five little people to get loud and crazy me to crave silence with Him in Adoration, and to really and truly lean on Him as I’d never leaned before – almost so far that I thought I’d fall over. He knows. Because He knows me. And He loves me. And He’s patiently waiting to see the good fruits that will be borne from this time of pruning as I remain in Him.

I think it’s time to go get some gardening gloves.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Remain in Me, and you will bear much fruit.” -John 15:5

i-am-the-vine

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Holy stressballs, Batman!

Holy stressballs, Batman!

Hello! I have been stuck in a very intense, all-consuming women’s conference and other significant life events vortex lately. Please pay no attention to the caffeine-riddled, dangerously sleep-deprived woman behind the Real Catholic Mom curtain!!! All shall be well. Prayers (and maid service and ice cream treats) gratefully accepted!!

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Meanwhile, please listen in tomorrow from 7-8 a.m. CST to the Live Hour on WNGL for an interview with the sassified Cari Donaldson, author of this fine book. Her Celebrating Real Catholic Women post is forthcoming, complete with (ooh! ahhh!) giveaway … Just you wait and see.

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Welcome to “The New Normal”

Welcome to “The New Normal”

Well, it’s 8:55 p.m. and my eyelids haven’t permanently attached themselves to my eyeballs yet, so that’s a good sign. Good thing, too, because I need my eyeballs for the new full-time job I started today.

Wow – it’s pretty crazy for me to even type that last sentence, let alone be living in the midst of this new reality. After working either part-time or on a per-project consulting basis for the past 8 years, I am a full-time employee outside the confines of my own home.

Despite our economic circumstances, I have been (nearly 100%) satisfied with being a volunteering, ministry-working, consulting-from-home Mom, working on projects for clients on a case-by-case basis, and supplementing our unemployment income while my husband seeks full-time employment and manages the ministry. With three small children, it didn’t seem like a good idea for me to seek employment outside the home, so I didn’t. God had other ideas. And He cannot be outdone in generosity. So, during this, the 9th month of my husband’s unemployment, when hubby’s job prospects still are in the dumps and the finances aren’t getting any better, God sent me a job that I hadn’t been looking for.

As of today, I work for the local community college as a Career Specialist. For the next three months (phew – it’s a short-term position), I will be helping people with significant barriers (think childcare issues, homelessness, drug/alcohol addiction, physical and mental instability, etc.) to find gainful employment. After today’s indoctrination, I know I’ll have my work cut out for me.

Please don’t get me wrong – I am thoroughly grateful for what I’m anticipating will be a sigh of relief come bill-paying time, when, for the first time in a long while, I won’t have to squeeze my eyes closed as I fervently pray that we’ll have enough to get by until the next month. We have been just barely scraping by, and not without the generous assistance of others. It has been very humbling to be receivers rather than givers.

But as we settled in for sleep the other night, after the job offer had been made, and we reasoned – it’s only for three months … we aren’t in a position to turn down employment – I started to panic. “What about the kids?” I said to my husband. “What if they need me? Or you need me? What if I miss something?” And, in fact, today, my husband told me that I missed our 20-month-old’s singing debut of “Holy, Holy, Holy” in the car. Anyway, my husband reassured me that he could bring the kids to meet me for lunch once a week, that he would keep looking for work, that he wished he was the one working full-time and not me, that he was proud of me. That was all good enough news that I was finally able to fall asleep.

Trying to help me look on the bright side, a girlfriend enthused, “Think of it as freedom. You’re building up your career! You’ll have a lunch break for the first time in who-knows-when!” But you know, after the novelty of such glamorous concepts as “lunch breaks” and the like wore off, I decided that I don’t want to be free from my kids or my husband. I belong with them, and they with me. They are my path to holiness. In this “new normal” of 8.5 to 9 hours per day away from my little family, how do I get to be the kind of wife and mother God has called me to be?

Don’t expect any answers from me on that last question just yet – I am still working it out with fear and trembling. And a rosary or nine. And some walks around the block. And maybe a Girl Scout cookie or two.

What I do know is this – while my husband does the “stay-at-home Dad” thing, St. Joseph, whose Feast is this Friday, will be getting some extra-special prayers from this newly-minted work-a-day gal: “Please, St. Joseph – ask Jesus and Mary to watch over my family while I’m gone. Let them know I love them and I miss them terribly and that I’ll be home – where I belong – in time for dinner.”

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