Advent Round Up

Hey, gang! It’s the most wonderful time of the year, when we get to dig into the excitement and anticipation, slap some glitter on the world, and snuggle close to twinkly lights while we watch movies with impossible plots that get tied up too neatly with bows. Gracious, we need this time now more than ever, am I right?

DISCLAIMER: If you’re not boobs deep in garland right now, you can just excuse yourself. As for me and my blog, we holiday hard, mmmkay? Kthanxbyeeee.

I recently posted about our Kindness Elves on Instagram and have gotten some questions about our Advent traditions, so I figured I’d do a quick round up of what we’ve got going on around here this season in case you’d like some ideas to make the season special!

Did I sound like a real life influencer there? I hope so because that’s the vibe I’m going for. The truth is I posted *a* post about our elves and exactly *one* person mentioned it to me, sooooo now I’mma do a whole post about it like Buddy the Elf and no one can stop me! The real real truth is that I’m getting lonely in this one room locked down schoolhouse and I thrive on words of affirmation, which I strangely do not receive from the pupils here at the Delagrange School of Witchcraft and Other Crafts But Please Don’t Make Us Do Math.

What I’m saying is, I’ve had two good days of homeschooling in a row and I need to brag about it.

Also our traditions make me happy and I’m very opinionated about Advent and Christmas and that’s what the internet is for: sharing unsolicited advice and opinions.

Read on if you enjoy casually looking at the goings on in other people’s homes but don’t plan to execute any of their plans in your own abode.

Read on if you’re looking for some ideas that make you look like you’ve got your shit together, when in reality your laundry mountain is less and mountain now and more of a clean clothes version of a gelatinous cube that’s taking over your living room. It’s legit kind of cube shaped over here because it’s been in the baskets for so long…rectangular prism shaped I guess if you want to get picky, but like I said, I don’t do math.

Please do not read on if you’re already feeling vulnerable or less than and watching me blather on about my stuff will make you feel like you’re not doing enough. I swear to you, you’re doing more than enough and also you’re a majestic man or woman beast with great legs and gorgeous hair, some of which is maybe on your legs. We are here to celebrate that and not compare ourselves because I guarantee you that you’re nailing a bunch of stuff I’m not. Like math. (Though this seems like the right moment to humble brag that Facebook alerted me the other day that thirteen years ago I scored a 97 on a math test, so booyah!)


General Advent/Christmas Manifesto:

In this house we believe in Santa and magic and Santa Magic. I have a firm belief that if you stop believing in magic, then magical things stop happening to you. I will stand by that until my dying day. So, yes, we believe in Santa Claus, fairies, elves, Mickey Mouse, Dolly Parton, and all glorious magical beings. The end.

In this house we believe even more deeply in Jesus. So, while Santa brings us gifts, we do not subscribe to any belief or threat (however tempting it may be) that children who misbehave will not receive gifts. That’s bullslaw and we all know it.

Any time it comes up I remind my kids that we exchange gifts as a way to celebrate the gift of Christ…you know, the innocent baby who was God actively choosing to be born into poverty and who eventually grew up and died a horrible death for our sins because he wanted to be with us in eternity even though we most decidedly do not deserve that grace? Yeah, that’s the one. So yes children, you’ll still get a gift if you’re a punk, but please for the love of Baby Jesus stop being a punk.

We reinforce this by focusing on scripture, advent readings, celebrating St. Nicholas, San Juan Diego, Our Lady of Guadalupe and all of the other awesome feast days in December, etc. Read below for specific activities we do during Advent.

(No comparison, though, you cotton headed ninny muggins!)


Kindness Elves: Because of my stance on Santa, I obv have a great snobbery against Ye Olde Elf on the Shelf. He’s a nark and snitches get stitches. I do, however, love elves who are not tattletales, so we have Kindness Elves who engage in general tomfoolery and also leave us little kindness challenges. They might bring us fun new holiday scented soaps and ask us to pray for those fighting Covid every time we wash our hands. Or the elves might ask us to memorize a scripture or read a particular book about the nativity story. They challenge us to offer a rosary, bake for our neighbors, and all sorts of other good things. Sometimes they call us out for not speaking respectfully to one another (I’m not above using magic to further my own agenda, duh) but other times they just do silly things because silly things are good and necessary.

The children were scandalized by this and I am still laughing about it.

Preparing a Place for the Christ Child: We have an empty manger (basket) that we prepare for the coming Baby with straw (yarn). You get to put in a piece of straw every time you make a sacrifice, do a good deed or an act of service. It’s a really great visual for kids to see us preparing a space for Christ…and it’s oddly motivating to kids of all ages. And also their mothers. It also gives parents a good reason to call out good behavior and praise kids. I don’t know about you guys, but I praise and encourage a lot less than I correct and criticize. I’m working on it and the manger helps.

Letters to Jesus: We got this tradition from Bobbi Rol and I just love it. You can use Bobbi’s form letter or tweak your own, but the basic premise is that the kids are writing to Jesus and taking time to thoughtfully consider how they’ll prepare their hearts for him during Advent. There’s space to specifically lay out what they’re taking on or abstaining from (remember, Advent is technically a mini-lent but don’t shoot the messenger), who they’re praying for, and what gifts they hope to receive Christmas morning. It’s a really fun activity that hits the sweet spot between emphasizing faith and embracing the fun of presents.

Jesse Tree: This is our first year to do a Jesse Tree and I can’t decide if it’ll be great or stressful. I’m totally fine dropping it if it doesn’t work out. I snagged the Ann Voskamp book Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas from the library. So far I really like it. But, I mean…it’s Ann, so prepare ye the way for lots of words. (I said it. She’s verbose. Wordy. Long-winded. I know, I know, I am the epitome of the pot calling the kettle black. It cannot be denied. How many more words will I write before I’ve sufficiently beat this horse? Three more words. Exactly three.)


Recent Homeschool Fun: Here’s the section of this post where I tell you all about how much fun we’ve been having at our homeschool…please read that as: how much fun we’ve been having in the last two days because the days before that were decidedly un-fun. Because things had been so un-fun and because it’s Advent, I wanted to shake things up a bit and try something different. For the next few weeks, we’re stepping back from individual lessons in our textbooks and mainly doing group work with a few individual things thrown in. This has already changed my life and it’s only been two days. Praise the Lord and bless His Holy Name is what I say.

For example, today we read aloud two books (The Twenty-four Days Before Christmas by Madeleine L’Engle and The Snowman by Raymond Briggs). One is chapter book length and the other is a wordless book. The kids took turns narrating the wordless book, trying to use the most descriptive words they could think of. We covered parts of speech, figurative language, critical thinking, and then took a foray into art because they noticed that a painting within the book looked an awful lot like Van Gogh’s sunflowers.

The placement of this book strategically hides the mountain ‘o laundry. I’m no amateur.

Then we took a foray into crying under the table because someone got interrupted by someone else who allegedly gave up interrupting people for Advent.

After that, we created our own wordless story, practiced some poems we’re memorizing, and worked on some spelling words. Over tacos for dinner, we discussed which type of book we preferred and why (wordless picture book, or chapter book with few pictures). Throw in lots of playing in the snow, math games on the computer, prayers, Jesse Tree readings, and a viewing of The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats on Amazon Prime (and a discussion of his art and influence) and I think it was a pretty stellar day in the ‘ole homeschool.

Also there were lots of video games played and we watched Frozen after dinner and I’m not sorry. Holla atcha mother.

Anyway, here’s the fun Advent-y homeschool-y activity that I think everyone should do regardless of whether or not you formally celebrate Advent or homeschool. It’s just real fun.

Stuffed Animal Census: Okay, gang. Buckle up because I am about to blow your minds. We did a math activity that took the entire day and I, the person who hates math, got so into it I was manipulating data like my life depended on it and then ended my night trying to learn Boolean algebra. I genuinely don’t know who I am any more, but I kind of love it and now I want everyone to do this project because it was such a joy!

We started by learning about what a census is since that’s the main reason Mary and Joseph were traveling at Christmas, you know? It was such a fun conversation about taxation and the Romans and tax collectors and then also about equal representation in government…I’m sure they soaked it all up like the little sponges they are.

Then we rounded up every single stuffed animal in the house and counted them. They were also sorted according to species, original owner, and current owner. Yes, some were classified as “disputed ownership.” It was so much fun to play with the data and make graphs to see how many of which type of toy we have most of and which kid has stolen inherited more toys than anyone else (spoiler: it’s the youngest). The kids all loved this activity and it was such a fun real-life connection to the nativity story.

It was real fun for everyone except this kid who was somehow convinced we were getting rid of all of his toys even though we assured him several times we were only counting them.

So, that’s the Advent Round Up. I’m sure I’ll have hundreds of other thrilling ideas for you, but this is already longer than Ann Voskamp’s daily emails, so I must be stopped. If you’re one of the two people who made it this far then I say to you, “Hi, Mom and Dad! Yes, it’s still snowy, but we’re safe. At time of publication, we still have power despite the snow storm. Talk to you soon!”

To Be Useless, To Be Used

Next week we begin Advent, which is almost impossible to believe. This has been the longest shortest year I think I’ve ever lived. With so much lost and gained this year and Advent upon us, I’ve felt very introspective.

…if you come in touch with the experience of being used or the experience of being useless, you might in fact be close to a true Christian experience, or closer than you sought.

Henri Nouwen

I read this Henri Nouwen quote the other day and began to ponder being used.

As a mother, it’s easy to feel used. Used for sustenance from the moment of conception all the way up to the current demand for another snack. Used for entertainment and education. Used as a bandaid, comforter, referee, and umpire. Used as personal assistant, personal chef, personal trainer, laundry service, life coach, and living jungle gym. Much of motherhood and parenthood is thankless. I’m told that I’ll get my thanks later, when their own children give them a taste of their own medicine, but that’s certainly not guaranteed. I know I have plenty to thank my own parents for that I haven’t ever mentioned to them.

Regardless of promised future gratitude, parenthood is thankless and selfless in a way that I had never experienced before my first baby was placed at my breast to tear my nipple to shreds, to make me blister and bleed, all the while demanding more and more and more of me until I almost broke.

You don’t have to be a parent to understand this deep feeling of being used. I have a dear friend who has no children of her own due to infertility and life being stupidly unfair. She may not be a parent, but she knows the profound experience of being used in equally deep and nuanced ways. A recent employment experience in education has left her stripped the same way I’ve been stripped by mothering. Used by students, taken advantage of by faculty, abused by administration, dismissed and disrespected, she’s poured herself out over and over and over again for a mission she deeply loves, only to have her work labeled unnecessary or expendable by the higher ups who clearly have a different set of priorities. I cannot speak for my friend, but I think it’s safe to say her soul feels as raw and ripped as my breastfeeding nipples. I realize how weird a metaphor that is, but I stand by it.

I read that Henri Nouwen quote and began to ponder what it means to be useless.

Which of us has not deeply felt smallness this year? Who among us has not felt useless to some extent? Unable to affect change, weak, powerless, unable to understand or regulate our own emotions let alone those of others, we’ve all floundered a bit with uselessness. Perhaps we’ve lost jobs, lost elections, lost followers, lost hope that our little lives are able to make much difference in this big world of hunger, hurt, and hate.

I believe deeply in the power of the human soul, that each of us does truly matter, that little actions have huge repercussions…but these feelings of uselessness are real and valid. Part of the human experience, the feelings of uselessness are side effects of living in a society that values productivity over people. If we are not of some use to others, what good are we? If we have nothing of value to offer, do we even matter? This explains our willingness to ignore the unborn, the alien, the elderly, the ill. They cannot contribute in the world’s valuable currency of usefulness, so we turn away and leave them to fend for themselves.


But what does Jesus tell us of being used? Of being useless?

Surely Christ was used by many. How many people were healed in scripture who never returned to offer their thanks? I can imagine that there were many more healings besides those mentioned in the gospels that went unnoticed by anyone other than the Lord and the one he healed.

And on the subject of uselessness, there’s nothing more “useless” in the view of the world than a baby. Babies have nothing to offer, no contributions to make. They just take what they need and scream when they’re uncomfortable. (Could it be that we are more like babies than we’d care to admit?)

Perhaps the only thing more quantifiably useless than a baby is having claimed to be God and then being unwilling to remove oneself from a cross. What use is being the Son of God if you refuse to use that power when it counts?

For Jesus, this uselessness is everything. For us, it should be everything.

Being useless in the presence of the Lord strips us of everything we think we bring to the table: all the skills, talents, gifts, all the accolades and lessons we’ve collected from the School of Hard Knocks that we think make us valuable, all empty. Being useless in our relationship with Jesus requires us to acknowledge that everything we’ve placed our hope and personhood in is nothing compared to the man clinging uselessly to the cross that costs him everything and grants us eternity.

Allowing ourselves to be emptied out, to become useless and used is the crux of the Christian experience. We must learn to accept that there is nothing we can do or bring forward, nothing we can lean on of our own creation that will make us more valuable. There is nothing we can make, do, or offer that will make us more lovable. Just like a baby who does nothing to earn the love offered it, we are cradled against the eternal breast of a God who willingly breaks himself open for us again, and again, and again.

When we recognize this inherent value in ourselves, we are better able to empty ourselves for the other. When we pour out from the truth of our identity, we are free to be used by others, not expecting anything in return, not requiring thanks, praise, affirmation, or acceptance to confirm our worthiness.

Let me be clear. I’m not advocating for us to stay in situations and relationships that are abusive or that don’t honor our innate dignity. Knowing our identity in Christ allows us to recognize those times when others don’t. Accepting our identity in Christ grants us the ability to set boundaries and walk away when necessary. The distinction I want to make is that so often we cling to the thanks, we cling to the affirmation, and the comments, and the likes holding them up to the light and admiring them as jewels that define our goodness, but they don’t define a thing. They turn to dust in our hands and leave us feeling emptier than before. We’ve twisted our identity so that we think we are useless without these jewels the world offers us, but in reality it is our uselessness that makes us worth loving.


My friend and I both recently gained a new nephew and niece within days of each other. We’ve been sharing news of our sisters, showing off the new babies to one another. They are two of the most beautiful babies that have ever been born and we are not biased at all, thankyouverymuch.

As I’ve walked through days of heaviness and worry, these strings of baby texts have been a joy. Sharing pictures of new little humans smirking in their bassinets, speculating on their long term hair color, and which parent they favor most has been such a precious way for me to escape my own glum days and be overjoyed with new life.

As conversations usually go with this particular friend, our texts rambled through the agreement that gosh we’ve needed these babies: “babies are exactly what this world needs,” wandered through sharing our current struggles and worries about upcoming holidays, and ultimately circled back to Jesus.

At the end of our conversation about holiday worries and postponed family plans my friend said, “Jesus is born no matter what. What this world needs is babies, and one specific baby most of all.”

Babies are exactly what this world needs.

We need the weight of them against our chests to remind us of the heaviness of Love that leans into us, just longing to be close not because of what we can do but because of who we are.

We need babies screaming in the night, reminding us to cry out for our Father, reminding us to keep calling on him with persistence, screaming into the darkness until we are held in the strength of his embrace.

We need babies in our lives to remind us that we can love someone simply because they exist.

We need babies to remind us of our own uselessness, of our own dependence, our own frailty. We’re all just one diaper change away from sitting in our own mess again, aren’t we?

We need babies to remind us that time is irrelevant and, in the big scheme of things, schedules are unimportant. Degrees, trophies, books sold, career goals met, cakes baked, toilets cleaned, spreadsheets balanced…none of it impacts a baby.

You know what impacts a baby? Being held skin to skin against the heart of the one who protects them. That’s what impacts a baby. Babies gain security from being swaddled up and held tight by the ones who broke themselves open, body and soul, to deliver them into the world.

As we enter into Advent, we need babies.

We especially need one baby.

We need the baby to remind us of our uselessness, of what it means to be used. We need him to point us back to dependence and humility, to sacrifice and surrender. And in the great paradox of our faith, we need this baby to save us from ourselves.

We must become like the baby Savior in order to love and be loved in this wild and wicked world. We must find ourselves worthy in our uselessness, offering ourselves to be completely used up, wasted, and poured out for love of a King who comes to us as an impractical infant in a no-name town, born to an unassuming family that became little and lonely, unremarkable and undistinguished in order to change the world through far-reaching, radically humble love.

Used and useless is the space where we must dwell this Advent, swaddled in the paradoxical love of a weak and useless baby in a manger, resting there until he is completely used up for us all.

Transition

The other night one of my kids was acting weird. She just wasn’t herself and I could tell that something was bothering her. When I prodded a little, she completely and theatrically melted down. “I don’t know, I don’t know,” she kept repeating. “I don’t KNOW what’s wrong with me. I don’t KNOW what I’m feeling, if I’m happy or if I’m sad. I don’t know what to FEEL. My life isn’t turning out the way I wanted. Like, who am I even??!?”

Did I mention we have a flair for the dramatic?

I tried to cover my grin as I calmed her down. Poor kid was just so frustrated with so many things and having such a difficult time articulating her emotions, so I leaned back onto something that I’ve used with the kids for a long time now. It’s just a quick check in that reminds them of their identity and consists of three simple questions: Who are you? Who made you? How did He make you? Being reminded that she was created by a loving God who made her and made her good was enough to settle my girl for the night.

And the whole situation seemed hysterical to me until I was having an identical breakdown like two days later.

I’m feeling rather adrift if I’m honest, having a difficult time finding my place in things. Without Easter to look forward to or Lent to keep me disciplined and no solid end in sight for the stay at home order, I’m having a hard time coping. It’s like the “day after” feeling I always get after holidays, but amped up a few hundred notches.

Who are you? Who made you? How did He make you?

Today’s Gospel reading from John (20:11-18) shows us Mary Magdalene encountering Jesus and mistaking him for the gardener. When she fully recognizes Him, it’s obviously a moment, but eventually Jesus says, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. but go to my brothers and tell them…” and gives Mary that incredible job of being the Apostle to the Apostles.

In today’s Blessed is She devotion, Kendra Tierney writes:

She can’t hold on to Him as her friend and teacher. She needs to let go of Him as a Man so she can embrace Him as God. She can’t get caught up in her expectations for the moment and for her life, because Jesus has a new and different love for her to experience. And an important job for her to do.

Kendra Tierney, Blessed is She, 04/14/20

“She can’t get caught up in her expectations.” Man, that gutted me. I think that much of the reason I’m struggling to cope these days is that I’ve been caught up so tightly in what I expect my life to be like. I have a vision for how I think things ought to be, what Lent should look like, how I want Easter to be celebrated, how frequently I think I should be able to receive Holy Communion.

“…Jesus has a new and different love for her to experience. And an important job for her to do.” I think it’s only human nature to cling to what we know, especially in difficult times of transition.

I’m a birth doula, so I often see the world through the lens of childbirth. I always say that life is like labor, transition is the hardest part. Transition is the part in childbirth that seems to take the longest, when a mother’s body is completing its final preparations to deliver her baby, it’s an eternity of seemingly unstoppable intensity. This is the point when mothers frequently begin to doubt themselves, when they say they can’t go on any longer, beg for it to be over, many times searching frantically for any “out” they can find. Alas, the only way out is through, as we all know. In order to get through transition in childbirth, a mother must push through the intensity so that she can push in a more literal sense to bring her child into the world.

And as I’ve seen time and time again in childbirth, the women who cope with labor the best are the ones who submit themselves to the experience. They don’t try to control or manipulate the situation, but surrender themselves to the waves. Laboring women who do fight their bodies get panicky, tension making the pain more intense. Labor oftentimes takes longer and is more of an ordeal that they survived than an event they took part in.

We’re in transition right now. Just like the experience of a laboring woman, it feels that there’s no end in sight. Our current reality feels like some sort of endless in-between where we’re promised something good on the other side, but it feels like we’ll never ever get there.

The only way out is through. The only way to cope is to refocus our lives on the One who is calling us to a new and different experience of His love. In order to progress, we must let go of our expectations, lay down the ideals we’ve been clinging to, the preconceived notions of what “normal” is or what our lives “should” look like, and submit ourselves to the experience, however difficult it may be. It is only in surrendering to labor that a pregnant woman comes to deliver her child. It is only in surrendering ourselves to our present circumstances that we will encounter new ways to experience the Risen Christ and, like Mary Magdalene, receive a deeper sense of what we are called to as His disciples.

Who are you? Who made you? How did He make you?

The Delagrange School for Wayward Children Salon and Day Spa, Inc.

Since last I wrote, I’m happy to report that my life has seriously increased in the glamour department.

When the initial stay at home order began, I had great aspirations of what I was going to accomplish with all my “free time.”

Y’all, we have established the fact that I am a liar, but let us also make it clear that I am not smart.

I have been a parent for ten years now, so I have no excuse as to why I foolishly thought that this time of intense social distancing would be the magic moment I’ve been waiting for to get my shit together. I have no other explanation than to say that clearly I was either in denial or delusional or both when I energetically and optimistically told my husband that, “The house is going to be spotless! I’m going to deep clean the kitchen! There will be purging! It’ll be cleaner than ever!” Incidentally, I also told him that my goal was to be skinnier at the end of the mandated social distancing than at the beginning, but based on the fact that I’m super dedicated into the Quarantine Carb Diet of 2020, the odds of that happening are decidedly not in my favor. Cest la vie.

Obv, we know that my house has never been grubbier. ‘Grubbier’ is a euphemism for “looks like a crap hole.” Y’all, there are sprinkles on my kitchen counter that were spilled in a freak cabinet avalanche over a week ago. I have no intention of cleaning them up. That’s just beyond my skill set at this point. I may, however, create a tiny memorial wreath to place upon the sprinkle pile to honor those sparkly bits of sugar lost in the accident, may they shine on in eternity. That seems prudent.

The other day, I did reach the point of cabin fever in which I rearranged the entire living room by myself and all of the electronics are still in working order, so I’ve got that going for me. But, suffice it to say, things around here have been…tenuous. I seem to vacillate between being on top of the laundry and using it to barricade the front door. I mean, why fold clean clothes and put them away when you can block any would be visitors from entry? It seems like a logical next step in social distancing to me and as my husband said, probably also filters all the air coming in through the gaps in the door, so win-win!

Aaanyway, since it’s Holy Week and since the kids have a bit of a break from school work, they’ve been exercising their imaginations and have been very resourceful in their play. That, combined with the fact that I clearly have lost all reason and gave them free rein of the nail polish allows me to happily inform you that the Delagrange School for Wayward Children now hosts its own Salon and Day Spa.

We. Are. Fancy.

Yesterday, I was able to visit the gym (aka, work out in peace while the kids painted their nails/the table) and then I received a full spa treatment that really upped my relaxation game. Please, feast your eyes:

“Get ready to feel relaxed.” Or “relayed.” Either way, get ready.

When I entered the spacious spa facility I was greeted by three attendants, one of whom was a dog, another who was an overzealous intern, and the last of whom was highly tolerant of her co-workers. She’s gonna get a shout out on Yelp, for sure.

I was treated to a nice warm water fingertip soak and a facial treatment that included a soaking wet towel that I was assured was warm at some point, but was decidedly chilled when it reached my pores. ‘Twas quite refreshing. I then enjoyed a lovely massage and hair brushing experience that was both unique and effective. What can I say? I’m a new woman now.

We followed up our spa treatment with a trip out of doors to enjoy the fine weather and go “Honking” which means we walk to the overpass near our house and try to get all the trucks to honk at us. It works best if you fight over which truck is “yours” while simultaneously screaming, “HONK!!! HONK!!! HOOOONNNKKKKK!!!!!!!” at the top of your lungs. (In case anyone is wondering, my smart watch did in fact give me a warning about my loud environment potentially damaging my hearing. That ship has sailed, dear watch.)

So, yeah. That’s our current situation. Day spa-ing it up, honking all the trucks, and we also had our own small Tenebrae service last night, which was genuinely really lovely. Because after all of the bickering and messes and tense emotions of the day, seeing your babes bathed in candlelight and reading the Old Testament is really a beautiful way to end the day.

I hope you’re finding ways to keep adapting and smile as you make your way through Holy Week, my friends. There is so much good to be seen, so much we’ve been given. You are loved!

Mary Susan

Note: At the time of publication, there is actual snow falling from the sky. And so the Lentiest Lent that ever Lented continues to get Lentier. But there is a pair of cardinals visiting our fairy garden in the snow, so life can’t be all that bad. Stay well, dear friends…Peace and perseverance in all things!

Additional postscript: A concerned reader just reached out to check on my tweezer situation. I am relieved to report that my saintly mother mailed me a pair of tweezers, so the facial hair dilemma has finally been resolved. Thank you for your support and understanding during this difficult time. I will update you in the future if we ever return to that perilous state.

Truth and Trust

Well, the good news is I think I hit my stride with the whole home school thing. The bad news is I still have my new chin hair. I tried real hard to find my tweezers, desperately ransacked the bathroom cabinets where they’re *supposed* to be before I remembered that I had to throw the tweezers away the other day because a kid was using them to fish for turds in the toilet. Not lying. Wish I was, but I’m not.

So, the next time you see me I’ll probably look like I’m auditioning for Duck Dynasty, but I’mma go with it and embrace the new normal. (It has yet to be determined if my husband will want to embrace this new normal. However, he is a wise, intelligent man, so I think he’ll take what he can get chin hairs not excluded.)

As I settle into this new schedule, new facial hair and all, it’s been amazing to me to look back and see how God has been preparing me for this time. I’m part of a ministry team that leads a women’s retreat every year at our church. This year’s speaker, Amber VanVickle, spoke about suffering and trust. She told us about how she did a challenge once in which she didn’t ask God for anything for an entire month. And the second she said it, my stomach dropped. I instantly knew I had to, needed to try it, and I thought, “Well… shit. I’m going to have to do that.” (Sometimes my response to the Lord tugging at my heart is less than stellar, y’all.)

So that’s what I did for Advent this year. I did not ask the Lord for anything in prayer. There were no requests, no supplication, no demands, nothing. Just me and Jesus and lots of time…because incidentally this was around the same time that I thought I was signing up to do a holy hour in the Adoration and somehow got signed up for a holy two hours. This was also before I had come to terms with the idea that silence before the Lord is an integral part of prayer. I had the blessing of hearing Meg Hunter Kilmer speak at my parish and when asked about how to pray, Meg said, “Silence. You need to sit in silence with God for at least 15 minutes a day.” My response, again, was, “Well, shit.”

Clearly Jesus had work to do on my heart.

What followed was an intense, challenging, beautiful time of me being frustrated with my own distraction and struggling to maintain focus while also trying not to fall asleep in Adoration. And at the same time, I was fighting every urge to ask, ask, ask in prayer.

Important side note: obviously, God wants us to ask things of him. Very specifically in scripture he tells us to knock, seek, ask. But so many times in our asking, we’re not surrendering. In our requesting, we’re actually trying to control or manipulate the situation. At least for me, my prayer life had become more about what I thought was the best solution to the problem and less about fiat and Thy will be done. Letting go of asking meant letting go of control.

When you take away the ability to ask and request, you’re left with only the ability to state and to profess. So my prayer life quickly became statements of trust and truth rather than begging to have my desires fulfilled. My journal entries during this time became less lists of demands and morphed into litanies of truth and surrender:

Jesus, you know my heart. You know my weaknesses and my failings. You know my addictions and sins. Lord, you know the depths of my hurt and all of the spots, the deep places I need healing. Jesus, I know that you are faithful, that you are before all time, and transcend all knowledge and understanding. You are unchangeably good. I believe you are pursuing me, healing me, drawing me out of the walls I’ve put up.

God, I believe you are faithful and you have a plan for me. Jesus, I trust in you. I trust that no prayer is ever wasted, no moment unproductive if spent with you. I trust that your will would be done and that you are holding me securely in your hands. Jesus, I trust in you. I trust that I will meet you in faithful silence every when it is hard for me. You are real, you are moving, transforming, dwelling, and guiding. You are love. Jesus, I trust in you.

Dec. 1, 2019

God, I don’t know what our future holds, sometimes I’m tempted to listen to fear and the idea that we haven’t suffered any real tragedy so it’s coming, that our future is somehow shadowed and shaky. But I’m reminded of your truth, that even in hardship and worry and storm and draught, you are present. You never change. Your love is constant and so is your mercy. So, whatever the future holds, I know you are holding us. Whatever the tides may bring, I will say yes to the call, your call to me within them.

Jesus, I trust in you. I trust that whatever you’re calling me to, you will equip me and provide for me within that call. Jesus, I trust in you. I trust that your ways are not our ways and that is good. Jesus, I trust in you. Trust that you are guiding, protecting, leading, and shepherding all of us. Even when you seem distant, you are there. Even when I’m confused, threatened, and afraid you are there. Jesus, I trust in you. Whatever the next days, the next year bring, I know I am covered in your mercy.

Dec. 15, 2019

I find myself compelled to return to these entries because once again I’m in need of peace. When my heart is troubled, when I’m grasping too much, attempting to control too much the answer, at least for me, is to trust. Trust and truth can do much in the face of fear and anxiety.

The truth is that God has not changed. He is real, He is moving, He is intimately in love with us, and He can redeem all things. All things.

The truth is that sometimes we have to get uncomfortable to really see how Christ pursues our hearts, how he wants to sneak in past our messy, disordered affections and addictions to show us what real satisfaction can be. There is truth and peace resting in his Sacred Heart and he longs for us to make our way there.

The truth is that when I let my dog out early this morning, the birds were still singing. Up before dawn, perched in a dying tree in my back yard, they were singing their hearts out to herald the coming day. They’re still singing and I think there’s a lot to trust in just in that.

St. Joseph

Photo by @seb on Pexels.com

Today is the feast of St. Joseph and I can’t think of a better example for our current situation. Before last year, I dismissed St. Joseph as someone who was rather boring. I mean, he’s important, but I never found him particularly exciting…until he started stalking me.

A year ago, St. Joseph kept showing up everywhere in my life. He turned up in books, in conversation, in emailed devotionals, and internet ads. I ended up getting to know him better and I’ve developed a deep devotion to this quiet, humble, holy man. I completed this consecration to Jesus through St. Joseph right before Christmas and it rocked my understanding of this incredible saint.

The thing I want to touch on today regarding St. Joseph is the idea that humble submission to God’s will is radically transformative.

I found St. Joseph to be boring partially because he never says anything in scripture. But that’s the point. Joseph doesn’t say anything because he is listening. God reveals himself to Joseph through Mary and through dreams. Joseph listens and obeys.

That’s obviously overly simplified. Digging deeper, we can understand that St. Joseph was handed a situation that he never predicted. Mary’s surprise pregnancy was never his radar. It was inconvenient, hard to understand, and difficult to accept. But instead of railing against the situation, instead of fighting, turning to bitterness or resentment, or even just opting out, St. Joseph put himself at the service of the problem. He made the conscious decision to partner with God, to willingly take on the role of protector for the Virgin Mary with all that in entailed, and in doing so his life was radically transformed.

I think it’s important for us to notice that St. Joseph took time to listen to God. It’s so easy to want quick resolutions, to want to hurry up the confusion and rush to a conclusion. But if we slow down and lean into the discomfort, we open ourselves up to hear God speak to our hearts.

Once he discerned God’s will, St. Joseph was all in. He took Mary into his home and embraced a situation that others wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. At the potential cost of his reputation, risking being completely misunderstood and mocked by his contemporaries, Joseph chose God’s will for his life and never turned back.

This partnering with the problem allowed St. Joseph to become co-creator with God and Mary. It allowed him to receive the Son of God into the world in a way that no one in human history can duplicate all because he listened, because he approached his discomfort and confusion with humility and trust of the Father.

When we find ourselves in similar situations, in places or events that are uncomfortable or difficult to understand, may we approach them in the spirit of St. Joseph. May we take time to listen, to slow down, to understand that even when things don’t unfold the way we want them to, it is usually because the Lord has a grander plan for our lives. God’s plan is certain to push us and draw us out of our narrow minded view of things. God’s plan isn’t necessarily safe in the way we’d describe safety in human terms (after all, Joseph fled a murdering king and lived the life of refugee in order to protect the Christ Child), but God’s plan is good.

A good plan from a good God is one that draws us into further holiness, into deeper communion with Him. Jesus promised us suffering, it can’t be denied. But how we live out that suffering is up to us. Will we partner with God in our suffering and allow the discomfort and difficulty to transform our lives? Or will we let the suffering harden us and lead us into submission to fear and anger?

The choice is ours to make.

St. Joseph, terror of demons, pray for us!

Corona Virus Got You Down? The Antidote to Fear is Faith

I gave up social media for Lent, so naturally my defense mechanism has been to compulsively check the news every five seconds. I’m working on it. The headlines are just saturated with Super Tuesday and ugly politics, but the biggest story of all is corona virus. I cannot escape it. The dread, the worry, the state by state analysis of its spread, the death toll, the potential vaccines, the worry, the worry, the fear, the panic.

It has been fascinating to watch it all unfold, fascinating to experience it playing out in my own heart. I’ve tried to check my emotions because I know that the media is fueled by clicks and site visits and there’s money to be made by inciting panic. And yet. Every now and then I find myself gripped by a fear that I can’t shake, my mind walking down the road of what if’s and could be’s. As I watch the internet reinvent headlines over and over, as I listen to people talk about it on the radio and see the numbers on face mask sales soar, I see an entire world that has been shaken to its core by something that has been here all along.

It’s our mortality and we don’t like it one bit.

Corona virus is new and scientifically impressive because of its characteristics as a disease, but perhaps more so because of how it sheds a light on our privilege. Most modern day humans living in the developed world have no concept of the imminence of our mortality. Even a hundred years ago, people grappled with death on a more daily basis than we do in the year 2020. 

Even as I type this, I find that last admission laughable. While we’ve got the benefit of modern medicine, disease control, better living conditions, etc, we’ve also got a whole slew of things out there that our ancestors didn’t grapple with. Lock down drills, active shooter warnings, chemicals in our food/water, and global warming are all things that our distant relatives probably never worried about. Sure, we’re not necessarily worried that our children will die due to scarlet fever and our dinner (usually) isn’t dependent upon what we grow or catch, but the fact remains that death is a part of life, like it or not. Always has been, always will be. 

The difference between us and our ancestors is distraction. We fill our minds and our schedules with invincibility, controlling and scheduling every moment of our days. If we’re allowed any free time at all, we fill it with scrolling or gaming or texting, anything to keep us from sitting alone with our thoughts. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, sitting in silence sucks. It’s uncomfortable to be confronted with ourselves. Our humanity, sinfulness, regrets, and discontent are difficult and its so delightfully easy to avoid them. Our mortality even more so. 

However, distracting ourselves doesn’t change the fact that some day we will die. No amount of internet research or hand washing will ever make our mortality go away. We can’t control it, or anticipate it, or make it fit into our vision of how we want things to go, so we ignore it. 

The trouble with that is that by ignoring and trying to control, we attempt to make ourselves into God and we all know that will never end well. I’m not saying that we need to live in fear, constantly looking over our shoulder for the Reaper ready to mow us down. What I am saying is that we need to befriend death. We need to remember that we have each been created by a loving God whose deepest desire is to know us and to draw us into His heart. All of life is an opportunity to grow away from the worldly things that tie us down, our selfishness, pride, greed, power, all the things that separate us from that love and to move forward toward Him. It is only through death that we can move on to the next stage of knowing and loving God. 

I know this is easier said than done. I am as desperate to live a long and happy life as the next guy. Stepping out into the unknown requires vulnerability and trust, both of which are incredibly scary. But when we get caught up in the fear, when the loss of control taunts us, I think it’s important to remember what’s true. I ask my kids this set of questions all the time when I see that the enemy is speaking lies to them or I see them struggling with fear: Who are you? Who made you? How did He make you? He made you good and He made you for good things. Christ conquered sin and death and if we make of our lives a daily offering to Him, constantly offering up all that we have, all that we’ve been given as gift to the Father, then death has no sting.

I realize that this is too simple an answer for some. It is for me some days. Living life to the fullest doesn’t erase the fear of death or the unknown. However, I do think that there’s merit in looking our mortality in the face. It gives us the opportunity to ask hard questions of ourselves. Why am I so afraid to die? What is it that I am afraid to lose? Who or what am I holding onto? Am I willing to give those things to God? What unhealthy affections am I more loyal to than to Christ? What sacrifice is it that death would require of me?

These aren’t fun questions to ask ourselves. They aren’t enjoyable dinner conversation starters. However, if we truly seek to serve God, if we truly desire to be held in the arms of our Savior, to give our lives to His provision, these are questions that must be asked.

For me, the thing that I’m most afraid to lose is my children. The thought that a disease could come along, sweep them away, and there would be nothing I could do to stop it is a horrifying realization. But what I have to remind myself if that they’re not my children. They’re God’s. They are eternal souls given left to my care. If I am frightened by my mortality and theirs, then I need to be making sure that I am doing my very best to honor their eternal souls, to teach them love, and to bring them as close to Christ Jesus as I possibly can.

And that’s what fear can do. It can either paralyze us or give us purpose. Pope Benedict XVI famously said that we are not made for comfort, we are made for greatness. Greatness requires sacrifice and self-awareness. Any suffering that life could possibly throw at us can either isolate and ruin us, or be a channel through which we encounter the Lord. 

We’re not in control, but we do have a choice. At the end of the day, we have no say in who contracts a highly contagious disease and who doesn’t, but we have a choice in how we respond. While there’s certainly no good time for a global pandemic, Lent does happen to be a particularly good time to contemplate our mortality. We live in the shadow of death, it’s true, but what that means is that we live in the reality that each moment is a gift. Each moment is a grace and we get to choose whether we live our moments in fear, or make the conscious decision to live our lives running to the Father in thanksgiving. And when we struggle with the trust, struggle with having enough faith, I think it is enough to pray, “Lord, help my unbelief,” and to step out in faith anyway.

Holy Week! And a Passion Play Set for Kids!

I hope your Holy Week is going well! Easter is my favorite holiday forever of all time. Add to that the fact that the kids are old enough to really start grasping the story and I’m just really excited to share it with them.

 

I did a little Pinterest hunting (you can follow me here if you’d like) and found some really great Holy Week activities to do with little ones. We’re going to attempt a foot washing mini-service with some of our best friends on Thursday, we’ll do hot cross buns on Friday, and watch Prince of Egypt on Netflix a few times this week.

 

I managed to put together a Passion play set for the kids the other day and they’ve really liked it. (Former children’s librarian talking here…giving kids tools to tell stories is so good for early literacy. Narrative skills help with vocabulary development, drawing conclusions, and story comprehension, so story play sets of any kind are great to have around!)

 

Anyway, I thought I’d share the links I found to be helpful and the pictures of our play set in case anybody else wanted to make one!

 

I got most of my inspiration from these two blog posts:

When You Rise – preschool activities for Holy Week

When You Rise – Passion story telling set

Because I’m both classy and Catholic I thought it was only fitting to make the tomb of our Savior out of an old Dos Equis box. Other than that, I used paper and had the kids color the scene with markers to finish out the tomb.

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You can sort of also see that the tomb has a trap door to make the Resurrection possible. The kids LOVED showing their daddy that the tomb was empty!

 

For Golgotha, I used an old flower pot turned upside down and some sticks and fake moss from Maggie’s Fairy Princess birthday party the other day. I chose the flower pot because it looked like a hill, but also because it has a drain hole that Jesus’ cross could easily fit into. Eventually I’m hoping we’ll be able to act out all of the stations of the cross, so it was important that Jesus would be able to “carry” his cross. I had some old kabob skewers lying around, so I used rubber bands and the skewers to make the crosses.

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I found an old peg doll that makes the perfect Jesus. I sewed him a little outfit, used some fabric scraps for burial cloths and we were good!

 

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So, there you go! Anybody else have good links or ideas for Holy Week with kids? I’m always interested in hearing what other families do to celebrate. 🙂

Happy Almost-Easter!

Mary Susan

Liturgical Living – St. Patrick’s Day!

While we try to celebrate at least one liturgical feast every month, I must confess that we kind of fell off the wagon after the Christmas season.

 

But, St. Patrick’s day is coming! We come from some green blood on both sides of our family, so I’ve always loved St. Patrick’s day. I love it even more now that I’m Catholic. There’s such rich heritage that comes from St. Patrick, so I’m excited to jump in and celebrate his feast right this year. (I will refrain from harping about mainstream St. Pat’s celebrating except to say, ugh.)

 

Here’s a link to my St. Patrick’s Day board on PinterestI’ve gathered a few good ideas there, but I think I’m going to focus on keeping it simple. The feast of St. Patrick falls close to the day we’re celebrating Mag’s birthday this year, so I’ll be doing some serious party prep and I don’t want to overwhelm myself.

 

I also want to focus a lot on the story of St. Patrick, his ministry, and the culture of Ireland. So, in the days leading up to St. Pat’s, we’ll be learning the Prayer of St. Patrick…

Prayer of St. Patrick

Christ be with me.

Christ within me.

Christ behind me.

Christ before me.

Christ beside me.

Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me.

Christ above me.

Christ in quiet and in danger.

Christ in hearts of all who love me.

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

 

The kids have already memorized a few prayers, so this is a great and fairly simple one to add to our arsenal.

 

We’ll also be hunting down some books on St. Patrick. I’m thinking specifically the Tomie DePaola book, but we’ll see what the library has.

 

I’m also planning to do this Trinity Shamrock craft.

 

As far as Irish culture goes, we stumbled upon Song of the Sea, a fantastic and gorgeous movie that is based on many old and lesser known Irish legends. It specifically deals with selkies, which are some of my all-time favorite creatures, so I was bound to be in love. (Growing up, we actually had a Great Pyrenees puppy that we named Selkie because she looked so much like a baby seal. Best dog ever.) The movie is directed by Tomm Moore who also made The Secret of Kellswhich I also loved. I thought Song of the Sea was just as lovely as Kells and a lot less scary for my kids. I did have to do a lot of explaining, but they loved it so much that we watched it again immediately after we finished it the first time. There are so many good lessons to take away from this film…it deals deeply with sibling relationships, the value of both positive and negative emotions, the power of bravery and love. I could go on and on and I’m pretty sure I’ll be thinking about this movie for weeks to come.

Common Sense Media has a good list of other Irish movies that might get you in the St. Patrick’s day spirit.

 

Other than that, I think I’ll be playing the Celtic station on Pandora and probably watching Riverdance. Sorry, not sorry, I have always loved the cheesy charm of Michael Flatley.

Lord of the dance, indeed!

 

 

What are your plans to celebrate St. Patrick? Let me know in the comments…especially if you’ve got a good recipe for Irish soda bread! I try a new one every year and haven’t settled on a winner.

 

xoxo,

Mary Susan