You were made in the image of the Creator

THINK

If you want God, and long for union with him, yet sometimes wonder what that means or whether it can mean anything at all, you are already walking with the God who comes.  If you are at times so weary and involved with the struggle of living that you have no strength even to want him, yet are still dissatisfied that you don’t, you are already keeping Advent in your life.  If you have ever had an obscure intuition that the truth of things is somehow better, greater, more wonderful than you deserve or desire, that the touch of God in your life stills you by its gentleness, that there is a mercy beyond anything you could ever suspect, you are already drawn into the central mystery of salvation.

Your hope is not a mocking dream: God creates in human hearts a huge desire and a sense of need, because he wants to fill them with the gift of himself.  It is because his self-sharing love is there first, forestalling any response or prayer from our side, that such hope can be in us.  WE cannot hope until we know, however obscurely, that there is something to hope for; if we have had no glimpse of a vision, we cannot conduct our lives with vision.  And yet we do: there is hope in us, and longing, because grace was there first.  God’s longing for us is the spring of ours for him. --Maria Boulding

 

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PRAY

Increase my faith, Lord. Make me more aware that things really are somehow better, greater, and more wonderful than I deserve.

ACT

Take a walk outside today, no matter the weather. Breathe deeply. Be very aware of your surroundings: the sun on your face, the cool of the air, the crunch of the snow, perhaps? Notice. Notice every little detail the Artist has left for you to see. Isn’t it more wonderful than you think you deserve? Now fix yourself a cup of something warm and just sit and look at the Christmas tree. Squint a little and let the lights twinkle merry over the imperfections. Aren’t you made in the image of your Creator, you mama who makes things wonderful for your children?

(Psst: Share the image at the top of the page with a mother who could use some encouragement on what is likely a very weary day.)

~*~*~*~

Motherhood can feel like the loneliest vocation in the world. Surrounded by children, who frequently bring us to our knees, both literally and figuratively, we can be overwhelmed by isolation. Mothers need community. We can be community for one another. We can encourage on another and hold each other accountable. If you like these short devotions, please share the image and send another woman here. And when you're here, please take a moment to pray with another mother who is visiting. Leave a comment and when you do, pray for the woman whose comment is just above yours. Just a moment--blessed--will begin to build community.

I like to pray when I run in the morning. Often, I listen to Divine Office and pray Morning Prayer or the Office of Readings. Then, I just take up a conversation with God. I'd love to pray for you! Please leave your prayer requests below and we can pray for each other, no matter how we spend our morning prayer time. Meet me back here tomorrow and I'll share the ponderings from my #morningrun.

 

Let's avoid the headache

THINK

“Never forget that there are only two philosophies to rule your life: the one of the cross, which starts with the fast and ends with the feast. The other of Satan, which starts with the feast and ends with the headache.” --Fulton Sheen

 

PRAY

Sweet Jesus, remind me that the empty places in my life can only be filled with you, not with Christmas cookies.

 

ACT

Are you stress eating? Reaching for the sugar and the carbs because they are there and you are tired more than hungry? Don’t do that! Let today be a fast day. Eat two small meals and a modest dinner. Eat no sugar. Go for a walk or take a nap (or both).

Love Languages of Advent

This year, things are a little different.

For many years, since the advent of the epic Advent unit, about 15 years or so ago, Advent has been pretty much the same--lots of traditions, done year after year. We have added a few new ones, winnowed some ones that don't work, but mostly, things have stayed the same. This year, life has called for shaking things up a bit.

Last year, during Advent, I did the usual thing: I baked and I made candy and every feast, it seemed, had some sort of food attached. This is  (was?) for me, as old as life itself. I come from a long line of Italian cooks who will tell you that food is a love language. I love to cook and bake; I'm good at improv and creativity in the kitchen.

But last year, words from another place came ringing into my head.  I remembered an old friend telling me how hard it was for her to even plan meals for her family because she saw food as an enemy. It wasn't her imagination: food--certain (many) types of food--was making her sick. I remembered those words, because Advent made me sick last year. 

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Sugar, dairy, wheat--they make me sick and even though I try to deny it and I try to offer those long-loved food experiences for my children, I have to admit, they're really better off with fewer cookies and candy and pasta and cannolis if that means  a healthy mom by Christmas Eve. I can't have even a little bit and lots of little bits over the course of a month are downright dangerous.So, this year things are a little different. The old familiar box of books has come up from the basement just as it always does. I think about the things we've done with these books and resolve that we're going to put most of the food-related ones aside this year. Instead, we'll just love the stories. Creating with food isn't happening here.

This year, my older children are needing my attention in ways I didn't anticipate. I am torn between creating a brand new set of poinsettia fairies with my littlest girls, because I want them to have everything the others had, and acknowledging that what I really want and need is to create anew. 

This year, I have come to face to face with the fact that the best Christmas gift I ever received is  feeling acutely the pangs of being the youngest boy, as his brothers move up and away, and everything that was dear and familiar seems to be threatened. I see in that still-round face that moments of little boy in this home are very few indeed. I see that he misses his dad, who is traveling both for work and with the big boy. I see that he needs me to figure a way to make these moments, right now in this crushingly busy season, matter for him.

I don't even want to bake this year, so tired am I of fighting with food. I'm not very inspired with old, familiar crafts. But I am compelled to create with my hands. And I am seeking peace and order in a world that seems suddenly chaotic to me. So is Nicholas.

I promised Nicholas in September that we would take a quilting class together. I knew that it was an act of craziness for me to assent to making two quilts--our first two ever--during November and December. But when Deborah made me an offer I couldn't refuse, I told Nick he'd have a handmade quilt, sewn by him, by the first day of winter, which just happens to be his birthday. I planned for him to make a simple patchwork quilt and for me to make the sampler quilt for the class. From the first moment of the first word of the first page of her book, Deborahhas almost magically inspired self-confidence in me. Crazy as it was, I made that promise to my boy. My last little boy.

I tried to tell myself that there would be mellow, firelit afternoons of sewing with my children while someone read picture books nearby. Truth be told, there has been some of that. There have also been hours of Sarah and Karoline taking full advantage of the nativity sets in the room that became The Quilt Room to reenact The Nativity for us again and again and again. There has been a full teaching of a "Twelve Days of Christmas" dance (cousins beware; it's coming your way on Christmas Day). There have been lots of chatter and not a few math and design lessons as we watched tutorials and learned together.

In the interest of full disclosure, there have been a broken seam ripper and far too many coins added to the cuss jar (by me).  There has been a perpetual mess while I neglected routine household things and instead cut fabric and thread into tiny bits to be scattered throughout the house. Several times, I'd cut or sew and Mary Beth would sit there with me, taking dictation while I made lists of all the other things I have to do. And quite a bit of online shopping has been accomplished while I wait for the iron to heat.There have been a few tears. And once, I literally reached up and pulled my hair out. We've worked through this process together. I kept my promise. Because promises are important.

My quilt is nearly pieced--all it needs is a border. The fabric arrived yesterday. I've learned enough in that process to dedicate another post to my quilt. Maybe I'll write about it after Christmas. Maybe I'll finish it after Christmas. It's the children's quilt I'm thinking of today.

The children's quilt is finished. And I'm very glad I put theirs first. It was a happy scene to see them all kneeling on that quilt, pin-basting it together. It was amazing to see even Karoline take a turn quilting it, and to see Nicholas allow his sisters a part in the making of his quilt. It was very good to do this project together, even though I was beginning to feel like it was consuming our days and keeping us from the peaceful pursuit of calm. In the end, that quilt has stitched us a together a little bit.

There are some big things happening in our house this month, things that change lives and things that cause happy stress, but stress nonetheless. I have been drawn out of this house way more than I've liked--to three-times-a-week therapy sessions for my elbows, to office parties, to college visits, to all sorts of big kid tasks. And I've missed my little ones, worried about my baby (who isn't a baby at all) and fretted over the little boy who seems to have been left behind as his heroes conquer the world. We haven't been baking and we haven't made candy and really, it hasn't been feeling quite like Advent for me. When I'm home, I'm sewing and I'm sewing in their midst and often with them. But I've been gone. A lot. 

Yesterday, I was on my way home from doctor and grocery store, dropping kids off before leaving again. I was talking with Colleen in the van, sitting in my driveway. I cannot talk on the phone in the house because I can't hold the phone. My elbows won't allow me that motion. The new van has a hands-free option, so the only time I talk on the phone is when I'm in the van without children. Not very often;-). Mary Beth came running out to the van and told me to come inside right away. She was insistent.

Sarah had spent the morning cranky and miserable, up way too late the previous night because I'd been with Mike at an office party. Everyone paid for her fatigue the next day.  Nicholas, trying to comfort her, had gathered Katie and Sarah and a book under his quilt. He read and read and read. And then, Sarah fell asleep, wrapped in the quilt. That was what Mary Beth wanted me to see: Sarah asleep on a handmade quilt while Nicky read The Christmas Miracle of Jonathon Toomey. I don't have a picture of her asleep. Mary Beth thought to take one earlier, but at the book's end, she and I just stood and watched them until the story sighed happily ever after. These sweet little girls at the end of the line; I worry sometimes that they are not getting the energy and enthusiasm and undivided attention that a young mom would bring. But there they were, with one of the most beloved of our family books, listening to my littlest boy--their big brother--read a version my eldest received for his First Communion, an Advent 17 years ago...

...all snuggled beneath our newest Advent tradition--a quilt they made together. 

~from 2011

 

If that was the advent of the quilt, then this has been the Advent of the National Championship and the nose surgery. My love languages have been travel and celebrations and Tshirt acquisitions and photo management. And pain management. Much pain management. 

 Back at the ranch, we have new food issues. Nary a cookie has been baked. We've been away from home more than ever in an Advent. I've learned tremendous lessons in hospitality from an old friend and her husband--lessons in kindness that may well change the way I look at guests this time of year forevermore. We've celebrated some incredibly rare, sweet moments together as a family. And then. Then, we came home, to let Patrick recover from very invasive nose surgery and home to let me scramble to put it all together here before Christmas. There's been a scramble. A mighty, exhausted, try-so-hard scramble.

 As I post these remembrances every day, I have reminded myself of the messages they speak. I looked at my to-do list this afternoon and realized that the only thing I'd "done" was the self-care item. (And it turned out to be a walk, not a run.) For me, that's progress. I'm six days from Christmas. From this vantage point, it's not likely I'll crash and burn. That's a very good thing.

I'm learning other things, too. I wrestled long and hard with the idea of making all these Christmas reminiscences into an ebook. Or, adding video and printables and making them into a workshop. At the last minute, I decided to just post an archived post every day here and add a little extra as I could. I had no idea at the time that Patrick would be playing late into the post-season. I had no idea how harrowing his nose surgery would be. I had no idea of many, many things that would come my way. What I did know is that life always happens big here and it rarely leaves time for anything outside of mothering. And so it is. The boy with his quilt is no longer soft and round. He's a young man. Our rhythms are changing, changing quickly. This house fills to overflowing this time of year. 

Life overflows. The good, the hard, the amazing, the crazy, the challenging. It all overflows. 

Love overflows, too.

 

A Carriage Ride with God

It’s that time of the year again. We are being bombarded by messages. Bombarded. We hear that we have X number of shopping days left until Christmas; buy, buy, buy. We hear that this is the season to be jolly; smile, smile, smile. We hear that we must decorate, plan, purchase, bake, cook, clean and entertain. And we also hear that we must prepare and pray.

The message most women hear is that they are the conductors of the beautiful Christmas symphony. If they mess up, if they falter, if they forget something, Christmas will be a chaotic cacophony of discordant noise. Women hear that everyone’s Merry Christmas is up to them.

It’s not. It’s up to God.

We take on so many things that aren’t within our control. Despite our best efforts, we really can’t control everyone’s good time. We can’t ensure that there will be no disappointments under the tree. We can’t make it so that no one feels lonely or left out or lost. Certainly, we can make our lists and we can do our best to tie pretty bows on boxes of joy. We can and should pray that Advent will bring us and everyone close to us closer to Jesus. But we have to let go of the idea that the weight of the world really is on our shoulders.

Imagine New York City at Christmastime — the pretty part of New York. See those horse-drawn carriages with brightly wrapped boxes piled high? When you climb into that carriage, do you hold those bags and boxes on your shoulders or above your head? Do you bear the full weight of them? Or do they sit beside you on the seat? Imagine for a moment that God is that horse-drawn carriage. He is going to carry you and all your stuff. Whether you choose to put it down beside you and let Him carry the full load or you hold it, exhausting yourself, while still, He’s bearing the full weight, is entirely up to you. Really, He’s got it; you don’t have to carry it.

In her excellent book, Grace for the Good Girl, Emily Freeman writes, “The amount of crazy it would take for a girl on a carriage ride to keep the bag strapped to her shoulder is equal to the amount of crazy I am when I refuse to trust the Lord to handle my worries.”

He says to us, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” (Mt11:28). The only way we are going to find a peaceful place to pray this Advent is to let Him carry the burdens — to fully trust Him with them — and to rest in His peace. Of course, this plan requires that we look hard at what we’re expecting of ourselves and at what is troubling us.

I think this time of year is most difficult for those women who try so hard all year long to be “good girls” — to do all the right things and to work hard to make people happy. The reality is that this Advent can be a time of true spiritual growth for good girls if we keep that carriage in mind. God is gracious. He already came as a tiny baby in a humble stable to lay down His life for us. He doesn’t need us to be towers of strength and efficiency in order for it to be Christmas. He needs us to acknowledge our weaknesses and to recognize His power is made perfect in them. The best gift to give this season? Give up. And just give it all to God.


Yours are the hands...

THINK

“Christ has no body now on earth but yours,

no hands but yours,

no feet but yours,

Yours are the eyes through which to look out

Christ's compassion to the world

Yours are the feet with which he is to go about

doing good;

Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.”

 St. Teresa of Avila

 

PRAY

I am yours, Lord. Use my hands and feet today. Give me eyes that see with Christ’s compassion.

 

ACT

Offer to help someone today: wrap gifts, bake cookies, fold laundry. Someone needs your help. You can spare the time. God multiplies time like He does loaves and fishes. Trust that you can be His hands and feet for someone else and still do what is His will for you in your own life.

 

~*~*~*~

Motherhood can feel like the loneliest vocation in the world. Surrounded by children, who frequently bring us to our knees, both literally and figuratively, we can be overwhelmed by isolation. Mothers need community. We can be community for one another. We can encourage on another and hold each other accountable. If you like these short devotions, please share the image and send another woman here. And when you're here, please take a moment to pray with another mother who is visiting. Leave a comment and when you do, pray for the woman whose comment is just above yours. Just a moment--blessed--will begin to build community.

I like to pray when I run in the morning. Often, I listen to Divine Office and pray Morning Prayer or the Office of Readings. Then, I just take up a conversation with God. I'd love to pray for you! Please leave your prayer requests below and we can pray for each other, no matter how we spend our morning prayer time. Meet me back here tomorrow and I'll share the ponderings from my #morningrun.