As Advent approaches, the binder is taken from the shelf. In it, I find lists, some handwritten, some printed in orderly type. There are gift lists, menus, shopping lists, to-do lists. All the ghosts of Christmas past. These lists are enormously helpful as I look ahead. I set them each out upon the counter and gaze upon the colorful quilt they make there. But I sigh with the longing. I long for the one-piece life my friend Ann Voskamp describes. Ann is an artist and a poet and she reminds me frequently that “I can live a one piece life, an ordinary life that is wholly sacred, because the Holy Spirit resides within, this body now being the very house of God.”
But can I do it during Advent?
Yes, I think so, especially during Advent. In this holy season of hopeful anticipation, every thought can be captured as a prayer and every action intentionally ordered toward heaven. For a moment, it all seems so simple, and then, I open my eyes. I see the bright commercialism of “the holidays.” I can hear the tinny shrillness of “seasonal music” in the box store. I feel the crush of social expectations. It all makes me restless. Deep within, I want holy days, candlelight and sacred hymns.
My life feels patched together like a Christmas quilt. There are pieces that are completely secular. The office party, the neighborhood cookie exchange, and the soccer tournaments in the cold rain are all part of my seasonal celebrations. Then there are pieces that are Christian — bright reminders of the season in the Baptist school where my boys played basketball, post after post on inspirational Christian blogs. And finally, there are the pieces that are Catholic. Those speak most urgently to my soul: the feast days along the way, the rosy hue of Gaudete Sunday, the nativity sets that beg small fingers to relive the miracle again and again, the lingering smell of Bethlehem incense, the sacraments in the glorious basilica.
To live a seamless life, I must find the sacred in the secular, and I must be the sacred in the secular. Ann writes: “God intended it all, every breath, to be received as holy. For He bestowed each one. Do I dare take the gift for granted? All might be treated as hallowed, coming down from our Father of the heavenly lights. All might be seen as sacred, pregnant with the possibility of spiritual acts of worship (Ro. 12:1). God wove life to be seamless, a tunic like Jesus’: one piece. For all is in Him. ‘In God…we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28). ‘Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence’ (Ps. 139:7).
“God is everywhere: He is the continuous thread, weaving the world and all that is within it together. ‘For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.’”
In a seamless Advent, we really live the liturgy. Every breath is infused with sweet, holy incense. We see clearly that this is a time of waiting and prayer and fasting. We gaze upon the Blessed Mother, great with child, upon a humble donkey, protected by good St. Joseph, and we know that truly every moment truly is pregnant with the possibility of holiness. The Church teaches that: “[w]hen the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. By celebrating [John the Baptist’s] birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: ‘He must increase, but I must decrease’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 524).
If my life is to be holy even as I walk among the secular, I must relinquish my every thought, word and deed to the will of God. What would He have me do at that party, in the cold rain on the sidelines, in the gym festooned with scripture verses, in the parish hall amidst sticky faces and donuts? What would He have me do in the quiet of the morning before the busy bustle of the day? What would He have me do as I shop and wrap? What would He have me do as I clean and cook and feed and clean again? How would He have me prepare for the infant God?
What could be more pleasing to God than to use these four weeks of Advent stitching together a seamless garment? How should I spend this precious gift of time?
I shall spend it weaving a one-piece life. I shall spend it learning to say with every moment, in all sincerity, “I seek not my own will, but the will of Him that sent me; for I do always the things that please Him” (Jn 8:29).
In addition to my regular homekeeping notebooks, I have a Christmas Control Journal. Many years ago, I downloaded the FlyLady's Control Journal for Christmas and put it in a binder. I photoshopped the cover of Susan Branch's Christmas book and made it say "Foss Family Christmas Planner." I put all our lists and recipes in it. I'm sure I did this, because I also made one for my friend Megan. This book is not a figment of my imagination. Would you like to see it?
I can't find it.Not only that, the electronic version went "poof" when lightning struck my computer. This is proof positive for me of a theory I've long held to be true. [If you are a diehard FLYLady fan, please hold your rotten tomatoes.]:
There's no such thing as a control journal.
Anyone who thinks that she can put everything into a notebook and then have some "control" over her life needs to have a few more children. "Control" is an illusion. So, a Christmas Control Journal is a preposterous notion to me. I'm someone who has found the car keys in the freezer because a teenager put them there. I've spent the night before hosting a huge Thanksgiving weekend party in the ER because my baby wheezes. I've lost all my Christmas money the month before Christmas because I was postpartum and sleep deprived and distracted when I hid the carefully saved cash. I'm someone who invested hours into making a control journal. And then lost it. I don't even hold the illusion of control any more. God is laughing at my lost control journal. And He's showing me--day by day--that He is in control and I'm supposed to be looking to Him and not to a management scheme.
That said, I worked diligently at the Christmas portion of my homekeeping notebook. Semantics, you say? Not at all. First of all, I can't remember anything.I need to write it down, log it into the computer, blog it, take pictures, back it all up. Then, I need to know that it's not going to look like it does on paper or inside this screen. Because something will happen; it always does. I'm going to make plans, but not plans for control, plans for Joy!
A Joy Journal is an opportunity to sit down and think about what's important in a family Christmas tradition and to deliberately set about making it happen, being careful not to miss the opportunities for serendipitous joy along the way and being careful not to let your blessings rob you of your joy. A Joy Journal is a tool towards an intentional Christmas. This isn't a "Control Journal;" it's journey to the heart of Christmas Joy. This isn't a factory-driven management tool. Instead, it's gentle reminder to the heart of the home--it's a reminder to mothers to see Christ in Christmas all the time.
When I created my Christmas planner this year, I did it with my oldest daughter, Mary Beth and my daughter-in-love, Kristin. We talked about the practicality of all the things we need to remember and plan. Section by section, we considered what works in our family. Prayerfully, carefully, joyfully, we created a useful tool which will help us focus on the tasks at hand while fixing our gazes on the babe in the manger. A control journal is a task list in a vacuum. A Joy Journal is a dynamic, organic work of creative art that will reflect the soul of a family and adapt to meet its changing needs.I can clip from magazines,include novena reminders and prayer cards, add graphics, play with the font, and make it all pretty. I can invest some time and thought and reap the rewards of a considered Christmas. I can pray as I create it and pray as I use it. Here is my Joy Journal. It's all those things I want or need or intend to do. Some of them won't get done. Other things will creep in and I will prioritize in favor them. Some of the dates will slide. No doubt, we'll have a few more visitors come through the revolving door. I know it will change every year, even if just a little. And when it's all finished, I'll make a color copy and mail it to a friend. Who will keep it safe.
Just in case;-)
Here is my Joy Journal. It's all those things I want or need or intend to do. it will look considerably different by this afternoon. On Saturday, everything changed. Patrick plays in the National Soccer Championships in NC this weekend. Shift it all over, scratch off, make room. And I haven't included our personal family calendar because, you know, weird internet things. Regardless, I'll be re-writing that today. A lot. Even still, some of it won't get done. Other things will creep in and I will prioritize in favor them. some of the dates will slide. No doubt, we'll have a few more visitors come through the revolving door. Door's open!
Click here for my work-in-progress Christmas plans.
Click here for blank planning sheets.