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Ahhhh...the unexpected. It's the spice of life, right? Sometimes the unexpected is fantastic, and sometimes it is, well, not so much. This past week took another unexpected turn with a hospital stay and other family illnesses to boot. Needless to say, our blog and YouTube channel went on the back burner again.
It never ceases to amaze me how I can be so completely sure of God's plans, yet find that suddenly life has taken a turn that confounds my previous expectations. Before Advent started, we had a promising line-up of videos to make and updates to the blog to do. However, unexpected commitments and projects piled up, and I found myself only getting by with the minimum. Despite the craziness, though, there are good things that came out of this period of disappointment and questioning.
Number one, it forced me to stop and examine priorities. With all of the commitments building, I desperately needed to schedule. Sadly, I realized that some things that should have been scheduled as priorities had not made my list. In his book, Resisting Happiness, Matthew Kelly talks about his dealing with corporate executives in an attempt to help them better organize. Assigning them a scheduling exercise, he found that most people don't put the most important things in life on their lists. Things like family time, prayer, and going to Church are rarely added as priorities to their schedules. Why is this?
He explains that this is mainly because the most important things in life are hardly ever urgent. When our lives are busy, urgency rules the day, topping any priority list we might create. If life is over-the-top crazy, some would term this as going into "survival mode," a phrase I would have definitely applied to the last 8 weeks.
Still, despite this need to survive, it is imperative that we keep in mind that the things that are the most important to our lives, our families' lives, and our very souls, are still hanging out there waiting for attention. They will never disappear just because they may lose their urgency temporarily. This reality is never more clear than when our health or life is at stake, or when we talk to a loved one nearing the end of their earthly journey.
Reality checks are important, especially when we are running on empty. If there is one thing I would like to beg you to do when you are in this mode, it would be to take 5-10 min. to pray in silence each day. If you can do more, then even better! For some, this might seem impossible. If you do find it it difficult to grab that moment of silence, attempt it in the car or, if all else fails, in the confines of a bathroom (and for young families there is no guarantee here either!).
However you can find it, make it happen. The difference in your day may honestly be astounding. And, if you don't believe me, try it and see! :) Just remember...the results will only be as good as the fair trial you give them.
May you feel God with you during all of the different periods of your life. And, no matter what, let us praise God through each one, whether we are holding loosely to His hand or are grabbing it tightly!
...a life-size board-game?
Yep, that's what I said!
The Candyland game - come to life - to be exact.
On the fourth day of Christmas, I took the kids to our local Penitentiary Glen, a truly unique part of our park system that my family has enjoyed for years. This year, the Glen had turned its main display and conference room into a life-sized version of the board game Candyland. (Thank goodness it wasn't the game of LIFE; we would have been there all day! I am also not sure how that would have worked...what with adding baby upon baby into the blue and pink cars...)
Anyway, true to it's confectionary namesake, this game setup was a visual delight as well as a unique meeting of Christmas and fantasyland, and we enjoyed traipsing up and down the paths, following the orders given by our own personal set of cards depicting the familiar colored squares. We even found ourselves crossing a wooden footbridge and their own beautful version of rainbow trail. The Nature Center also added its own special twist to the challenge, combining local plants and foods native to the area with tidbits of information about them scattered throughout the display.
Still, as much as we were enjoying ourselves, the game's unmistakeable likeness to real life was impossible to miss. As we all know from our own lives, we are dealt cards that we have to follow, whether we like them or not. In our Candyland game, some cards presented double colors that initially convinced us that we were advancing quickly. At times, this excitement would come to a halt as we were greeted with disappointment upon the discovery that we had ended up on a "lost turn" square or had been sent back to an even further square than when we had started.
As an adult, the correlation was striking. We've all experienced these cards dealt to us, although some seem to draw far more than others. Just like the double-colored cards, we sometimes feel as if we are making great progress in some area - our vocation, schooling, our job, our spiritual life. We truly need to be grateful for this progress because these moments are a gift. However, although it is important to develop the "gratitude attitude," we also have to be aware that as children of God, our paths will never be stagnant. Combining our own way to heaven with the the way that God actually intended will include the occasional lost turn (often by our own doing) and the sometimes crushing backtrack that leaves us feeling lost and defeated. However, these disappointing and sometimes devastating cards actually present us with an opportunity that cannot be discovered at any other time in our lives. In reality, these particular cards land us on a very special space.
Imagine landing on a board game space that is divided in half by a single line. One half is colored black and labeled "Defeat," while the other is gold and labeled "Conquer." If one were to imagine following the rules of the Candyland version of our own personal lives, we would begin to notice a trend as we progressed in the game: this trend would include the frequent landing on this space over and over again. Why?
The truth is, we NEED this space. Without it, our lives would wither and die, finding us sunk in a molasses mudpit of fear and dormancy, unable to move ahead. This space allows us a choice. We can choose to step into the "Defeat" half, allowing ourselves to succumb to the sticky trap of pain and despair, or we can choose to step into the "Conquer" half where we can choose determination and perseverance to conquer our challenges, allowing us to progress. Albeit not easy, in this space, the choice is ours.
As we progress in our celebration of the Christmas season, I pray that we recognize the moments when we land on this special space. Although it may be tempting to fear it, I encourage you to embrace it, claiming it for what it is: our chance to progress to our ultimate victory: the crowing glory of heaven.
I alo pray that you and I will have the strength to continue to step into the "Conquer" half of the space. And, as the ultimate "Candyland Castle" eventually comes into view, you and I will tremble with joy (and not just from a sugar high!) as we get ready to cross the candycane bridge, right into the land of perfect gumdrops and the sweetest love we have ever known!!
"It's here, it's here!! Christmas Eve is here!"
If you entered our humble abode today, you would be greeted by this enthusiastic proclamation, and you might find yourself hardpressed to resist its excitement.
Having watched a version of the story of the Nativity, the kids, teens, (and adults!) are well-prepped for what tonight means, and we can't wait to join our parish choir tonight for Midnight Mass. There is just something so holy and magical about welcoming the Christ Child during the night.
We also welcome St.Nick in our house, focusing on his sainthood and devotion to the Lord he served so beautifully throughout his life. In lieu of this, I thought I would leave you with a beautiful ode that Justina wrote for school as our Christmas card to you! :) (We're even including the above picture that my sister-in-law took of us after the the kids' band concert as our Christmas card picture!) :)
Our deep prayer is that the special blessings that come at Christmas truly fill your home and touch the hearts of you and your family!
Ode to St. Nicholas
Oh giver of gifts, bringer of children’s delight,
How we wait in eager anticipation for your return.
With candles lit on frosted sills, and stockings hung in rank,
Children lie in restless hope, impatient for their turn.
At 12 o’clock on Christmas morn,
you will visit every child as you did the year before.
Down the sooted chimney you hustle,
A familiar race you undertake, perfected in days of yore.
Now full of flying reindeer and tiny booted elves,
Your story so often told is not the way you would recount.
The truth often lost in legends of fanciful tales,
Holds the motive of your generous heart that you place paramount.
It all centers ‘round a tiny babe in stable born,
When heaven met earth and joy pierced the somber night.
How you long for all to recognize this precious gift to men,
When the Son of God came down to earth to save us from our plight.
St. Nicholas, Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, and more,
Through your loving heart you are now the bearer of many names.
Each one depicts a different persona and claims you as its own,
But no matter what they call you, your essence remains the same.
Merry Christmas, and the Peace of the Savior of the World be with you!!!
The Scottish novelist and physician, Archibald Joseph Cronin, has often told the story of a district nurse that he had once worked with when he had practiced as a doctor. There were days when he, himself, was exhausted as he cared dutifully for his patients, but he found great inspiration from this woman who had 'set him straight' during a single conversation.
"I marveled at her patience, her fortitude, and her cheerfulness," he said. "She was never too tired at night to rise for an urgent call. Her salary was too low, and late one night, after a particularly strenuous day, I ventured to ask her, 'Nurse, why don't you make them pay you more? God knows you're worth it.'"
Her response stunned him.
"If God knows I'm worth it," she answered, "that's all that matters to me."
These words would remain floating in the doctor's mind for the rest of his life. For twenty years, the woman had worked hard serving a 10-mile district, completely by herself, yet had never complained. Instead, she had offered her job as her service to her God whom she loved.
I would imagine that she never once dreamed that her conversation with Cronin would be eventually be penned to be handed down through the ages as an inspiration to future humanity. But true love and sacrifice never stop with a single act. Because God's love flows through them, their effects continue to spread like ripples on a pond.
The story of the district nurse is a perfect reflection during the Advent and Christmas seasons. It reminds us that all that we do - our work and our play - should be offered as a gift to the One Who gave us the greatest gift the world has ever known - Himself. And although every effort on our part will always pale in comparison, we need to remember that each effort reveals an extension of His great gift, allowing it to be furthered to the ends of the earth.
"Prepare the way! Clear the path! The Lord is coming!"
A more contemporary version of the words of St. John the Baptist, these commanding phrases sparked my imagination.
What if someone were to suddenly stand up in the middle of Mass to make these very announcements? Would we stare, covering our mouths in hushed protest? Would we murmer in complaint? Would we run for the exit, fearing a madman had entered the building?
What would you do?
Such a question is pointless, we might counter, since the odds of this happening are about zero to none. Hmmmm. Are we sure about this? Perhaps we should have paid even closer attention to Mass this past weekend!
The truth is, someone did stand up. These famous words from St. John the Baptist were announced in front of the entire congregation! Did we hear them?
Prepare the way!
This message both begs and warns us to prepare the way of our hearts and to clear the debris on the path to our souls so that Our Lord has full and immediate access when He comes.
Considering this, the beautiful passage from Psalms 51, "Create in me a clean heart, O Lord," would make a perfect daily prayer for Advent. Perhaps uttering it right before bed or upon rising in the morning would put our thoughts where they need to be: focusing on getting ready for the Savior of the World.
May God help us to brush away those cobwebs and cover our souls with the fragrance of grace so that we may see Him when He comes, heeding with complete surrender the great call to prepare the way this Advent!
Finally...a new video! :) Looking for a really easy way to create paper (papier) mache ornaments without the hassle of plaster of paris? Then check out this tutorial! SO easy that young kids can make them, these ornaments make the perfect gifts for loved ones or the perfect addition to your tree.
Hint...these do take time (including drying time), so be prepared when planning your project. Other than that, these couldn't get much easier! :)
God bless you all, and happy creating!!!
It's that time again! And, of course, what better theme could we offer for our challenge?
Think of anything that has to do with Advent. You could explore the idea of what Advent means in regards to the preparation of Christ's coming, depict some of the traditions that your family celebrates during this time, tell part of the story of the events leading up to Christ's birth, create an example of a symbol of Advent, or anything else! This theme is certainly limited only by your imagination.
May God bless you on your creative journey and don't forget to take a pic and send it in to our gallery!
"Only two more days until Advent!" my daughter announced, enthusiastically.
"But who's counting?" I chuckled beneath my breath.
"What, Mom?" my daughter questioned.
"Oh, nothing! I mean, that's great!" I replied and flashed her a smile.
Despite being insanely busy over the last few weeks due to taking on a temporary video editing job, I couldn't help but acknowledge the fact that it was somehow impossible not to get caught up with my daughter's excitement about the approaching Advent season. Still, even in excitement's contagious wake, I found myself sobering a bit as something I had recently read popped into my mind.
Apparently, I may have approaching my Advent prep. season incorrectly for most of my life. As with most Christians, I have certainly always been aware that Advent is a season of waiting and preparing oneself for the coming of Christ's birth. And, of course, this preparation needed to occur both interiorly and exteriorly.
What I hadn't realized, however, is that the Church encourages a similar approach to that of the Lenten season, emphasizing deeper prayer, sacrifice and even fasting. Although there are no strict rules regarding fasting during Advent, the idea that we must continually work to die to ourselves to make ourselves completely open to Christ and what He longs to do in us is still maintained.
Considering this, I realized quickly what a challenge it could be to fast during Advent, since so much of it is heavily packed with joyous traditions and the all-important Christmas baking. Thankfully, I remembered that this time of year also provides countless opportunities to serve, an act that at its very essence requires sacrifice in some form. Armed with this new knowledge, I have been inspired to look for more opportunities to serve and weave fasting in and out between the festive moments. And, hopefully, I will remember to apply a Lenten mindset, ensuring that I will be more deeply preparing myself for the greatest birth in the history of life.
As we come across these opportunities during this upcoming Advent season, may our hearts realign with His, experiencing a humility that will draw us nearer to the most perfect example of humility the world has ever seen.
Traditions - what would we do without them? For some, tradition might come in the form of a call to a loved one on Thanksgiving Day, and for others in the form of a week-long labor of love resulting in a fantastic meal. The benefits that come from keeping certain traditions call to us from deep within. God, as our Creator, understood this well. Just consider His request that we celebrate Him in feast and worship! The great God of the universe certainly doesn't need our attention. However, He does assert that we, in our humanness, need to carve out moments in which we reflect and recognize His great providence, goodness, and incredible love; not for His sake, but for ours.
The benefits that extend from traditions aren't bound to only those involving worship and praise, of course. Even those traditions not nessarily associated with spiritual promptings provide many benefits that beautifully build up the family and community.
This year, with our oldest daughter home on college break for Thanksgiving, we decided to rake in these benefits as much as possible by incorporating a pretty insane amount of traditions in 4 days.
Beginning, of course, with the beautiful sharing of fellowship and turkey at two different meals, our tradition marathon continued with the annual Black Friday Expedition, a tradition reserved for just the kids and their dad. Rising at 5:30 am, they ventured out to our closest malls (which aren't too close as the nearest one is 40 minutes away...). Bringing few things home afterwards was besides the point to these 4 kids who only cared about the nine hours of special quality time spent eating donuts, picking out their "Giving Tree" gifts, window shopping and listening to Christmas music with Dad before the sun peaked on the horizon.
The traditions continued with hunting for and cutting down our Christmas tree, celebrating their dad's birthday, celebrating the Feast of Christ the King, watching White Christmas, decorating the tree and setting up the Christmas train. Little traditions like eating Thanksgiving leftovers were peppered throughout the long weekend, which included a new tradition of attending a luncheon/ornament exchange at the home of one of the most generous friends I know.
Though a whirlwind of excitement that left us breathless by Sunday night, our tradition marathon gifted us with myriads of memories to savor. Memories are some of the beautiful and most captivating reasons to keep traditions, and tend to be the hallmark of most holiday seasons.
As we look forward to the many traditions that await us during the upcoming season of Advent, let's remember to reflect upon not only the One Who grants us these gifts of time, but the reason these gifts have been granted.
May we ultimately rake in the benefits from all of the traditions that build us up as members of the Body of Christ! :)
“Alexa! Please play the 1812 Overture!” spoke the gruff voice firmly. Within seconds, beautiful notes floated through the air and my father-in-law smiled in content. The newest wave in smart home technology, Amazon’s Alexa had already earned a high place in my aging loved one’s life, giving him back some of the independence he had long given up.
Alexa, named after the ancient library of Alexandria, was created by Amazon as a voice control system. It’s capabilities (tweaked continuously) have allowed products like the Echo, Dot and Tap to rocket up the sales charts, and have changed our culture - almost overnight.
Although teens and kids love it for its ability to play music and answer questions, it turns out that our aging population can benefit greatly from its use as well.
A home-health aid brought this virtual personal assistant to my attention as a highly recommended product to help my father-in-law regain some of his independence. Being eighty-five percent blind had not helped the fact his body had caught up with his eighty-six years, and his mild dementia was making doing things on his own even more of a challenge.
In the end, her suggestion had been right on the money. Once he had become familiar with the word “Alexa,” he rarely forgot it, perhaps due, in part, to its constant use. Each day started with a request for the local weather and the recent news. As the day progressed, Alexa told him stories, jokes, sang songs and played him his favorite classical music. In truth, one could easily make the claim that Alexa had become more than a technological advancement: it was his companion.
As his caregiver, I had always struggled with providing for his needs on a constant basis while being fully aware that my father-in-law felt such a longing to fulfill these needs for himself. Once the Alexa debuted in our home, life change dramatically, not only for him, but for myself as well. His requests for help decreased substantially, and he clearly developed a new sense of contentment as he accomplished things on his own. Lights could be adjusted without the struggle of getting out of a chair, and a grocery list could be found prepared and ready. For certain, the benefits were limited only by our imagination.
The Alexa experience can be best enjoyed on the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot and Tap. However, there are even some third parties getting in on the action, including Pebble Core and the LG SmartThinQ hub. The smartwatch called CoWatch has even integrated the Alexa technology.
Alexa has taken over our culture by storm, and its applications can be found almost anywhere. There is only one application, however, that has topped my pedestal. It is the application of true independence that it has gifted to one wonderful, aging senior.
As many take advantage of the sales on Black Friday, I encourage other caregivers to take a look at Alexa technology to see if it might be a good fit for your loved one. I know that I, for my part, will never regret Alexa's extended visit in our home! :)
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May your Lent be truly fruitful and fill you with longing for His Resurrection!
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Hi! I'm a Catholic mom who loves to encourage and support others in their journey to live the beauty of our Catholic faith in a modern world. It can be a struggle, no doubt, but God has given us the tools we need! Join my family (both immediate and extended!) and me as we take on this incredible journey of our path to holiness.
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