Categories
Advent Christmas Devon Wattam Ink Slingers Liturgical Year

Longing for Christmas Magic

“You have made us for Yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” -St. Augustine

My little boy walked up the steps that lead into my grandparents’ quaint, country home. As soon as he opened the door and made his way into the living room, his eyes lit up at the sight of twinkling lights, miniature houses, and a train. He let out a gasp filled with wonderment: Christmas at Mawmaw’s house.

This time of year pulls at my heartstrings. A longing for the familiar drifts over me like incense year after year. I find myself thinking about what once was, listening to music that reminds me of my grandparents, and going places that I frequented as a kid, grasping for a snippet of the childhood magic that unfolded so effortlessly years ago. These magical moments visit me on occasion, wrapping me in the warmth of youthfulness and comfort, if only for an instant. But they are gone as quickly as they come, and I am left with doing everything I can to find more wherever they may hide, be they at the bottom of a cup of hot chocolate or under a blanket on the couch while watching Christmas movies.

Whoever said you can’t go back was mistaken, though—you can through your children.

My two boys and I are staying with family over the holidays this year, while my husband is deployed. It’s a bittersweet time because while we would prefer to be in our own home as a family, it’s given me the chance to witness my children experience an Alabama Christmas that I grew to love so much when I was little: lights at Bellingrath Gardens, seafood gumbo, and family everywhere you turn. Driving with my sons down the roads that my parents drove with me as a child, showing them the fields where I played soccer, where I went to school, and the store that I walked to with my Pawpaw to get an afternoon snack make my stories come to life for them and again for me. The air has been thick with nostalgia lately.

Now that I’m an adult, I see the stakes that parents go to recreate that childhood magic, myself included. Countless amounts of time and money funneled down in a tireless effort to recreate the feeling of awe that fill innocent hearts each year at Christmastime. These efforts are done out of love, of course, but I’m finding that too often they fall short even with the best intentions. This is because children don’t require lots of money and effort to find the magic in life. My three-year-old is more enthralled with his dad’s old Hot Wheels or helping unload the dishwasher than he is with the toy that he got to pick out at the store for behaving all day. Oh, the irony!!

The overwhelming nostalgia that drives me to overspend and run myself ragged during the holidays isn’t rooted in a desire for Christmas magic or presents or even family, though it may seem that way. It’s for Jesus. That’s the real gift that I want to give to my boys.

Out of all of the memories I have of experiencing Christmas as a child, the one I cherish the most is of going to Mass late at night on Christmas Eve, knowing that something special was taking place. Gentle carols being sung, candles and poinsettias in every direction, driving home under a blanket of stars in the darkness of night. If my parents were tired or stressed, I never knew it.  

When I step back from the planning and the shopping and the grasping for more, it’s clear that Jesus has been with us the whole time. In the meals we’ve regularly shared with extended family that are impossible when we are at our home across the country; the time spent with cousins, aunts, and uncles; new memories distracting the boys from missing their Daddy who’s on the “Big Boat”—Jesus has already given us the greatest gift this year, and it’s not Christmas yet.

A hole in my heart may pop up every December, but trying to fill it with stuff isn’t unconscionable, it’s human. Because my heart was made for Him, I won’t be satisfied until I’ve found Him. Thankfully, He will be here soon, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger. But He can also be found daily in the eyes of my children.

Categories
Christmas Ink Slingers Maurisa Prayer

Reflections on the Nativity

 

Notes on Guided Meditation According to Saint Francis de Sales

I’ve been reading Saint Francis de Sales Introduction to the Devout Life and applying some his proscribed practices to my prayer life, especially during my weekly holy hour.  One exercise I’m particularly fond of is following his plan for focused meditation upon individual scenes from Christ’s life.  The recommended steps condensed into the simplest terms are:

  1. Place yourself in the presence of God, recognizing He is everywhere and seeking Him within your heart; praying for Him to make His presence felt.
  2. Recognize your own unworthiness to be in the presence of God; humbling yourself before Him.
  3. Using your imagination place yourself in the midst of the particular mystery from Christ’s life on which you desire to meditate. Here a work of religious art can be especially helpful.
  4. Having spent some time placing yourself within the scene begin to make reflections upon it; seeking the lesson to be learned.
  5. Turn these reflections into firm resolutions for spiritual growth and for amending of your life and humbly ask for the graces you need to accomplish such.
  6. In concluding your meditation make acts of thanksgiving, oblation, and intercession

When I practice this method of meditation it helps if I write out my reflections and resolutions. 

Meditation and Reflections on the Nativity

Taking the Nativity as my subject and using the beautiful painting by Gary Melchers above to help me focus, my reflections from a recent meditation were as follows:

Having concluded their arduous journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph suffer the indignity of not being able to find a place to stay within the city.  Seeing that Mary is so young, so near her time, and so exhausted from the journey, an empathetic inn keeper takes pity upon them (God bless that inn keeper!) and offers them space in a stable not far  from the inn.  Mercifully for the weary travelers, the space is safe, dry, clean (as stables go), warm and offers them privacy as the Child’s birth approaches.

I imagine a midwife or experienced housemaid assist Mary as she labors through the night. What a blessing to have been the one to assist such a birth! In some theological circles, there is debate regarding whether Mary experienced actual labor pains or was she spared this suffering due to the merits of her Immaculate Conception and perfectly conformed will.  For me, it helps to think Mary did indeed labor in pain. It helps me to identify more closely with her. (Up-dated to include a link explaining why my perception here is actually contradictory to Tradition)Mary is finally delivered and Jesus is placed in her arms.  As much as I adored each new life placed in my arms as a mother, I cannot fathom the pure love Mary feels for the infant Savior.  She and Joseph are filled with joy.  The stable is filled with warmth and light.  To be present at such a miracle had to have been euphoric.

Spent and relieved, exhaustion over comes the Blessed Mother, as so beautifully depicted in Melchers’ painting.  She slumps upon the floor, leaning against a contemplative Joseph for support.  It is here I most commiserate with her.  Her vulnerability and sacrifice can be deeply felt in her posture and expression having spent her last bit of energy in delivering the Messiah. It is a blessed relief to have completed bearing a child, but there is a sense she knows her labors have only just begun.

This nativity is fairly bare compared to most.  Melchers chooses to depict Mary, Joseph, and the babe alone.  The stable is dark, save for the preternatural glow from the Child and the light from the doorway signaling dawn has arrived.  The scene is pensive, tranquil, and filled with hope. 

Dear sistas, may you find peace, joy, and hope this Christmas season and may God bless and protect you in the coming year.

Information on the artist

Julius Garibaldi Melchers (1860-1932) was an American Artist whose most famous works include the murals War and Peace and are now part of the Library of Congress collection.  He lived and did most of his painting in Europe where he was honored with several awards. As with many of the artists of the day, he favored naturalism and later in his career adopted a more impressionistic style.  He painted The Nativity in 1891. No further information on the painting could be found.  

Categories
Advent Elle Stone Ink Slingers Liturgical Year Motherhood Spiritual Growth

Advent Within Me: Waiting on my Baby… and the Messiah

I’m really bummed I’m not having a baby in time for Christmas.

Well, knock on wood.  I’ll be 35 weeks at Christmas.  Which is a feasible time to have a baby, I think.  The better part of me, the part that is maternal and protective, wants the baby to make it to her due date of 27 Jan, so she can have as much time as possible growing strong.

The little kid part of me, the part of me that wanted a pony for Christmas when I was 8, would love to have a baby in time for Christmas.

I’d settle for the Christmas season, even.  So, just make it here by 6 Jan, kiddo.


Just think about it.  What could be better than the reflection of Christmas lights in your baby’s eyes?  Or all of those incredibly cute outfits on Amazon right now. The red, green, and white plaid dresses with a gold bow around her head?  Priceless.

But all in God’s timing.  All in Gods timing. And in the timing that keeps my little baby girl healthy.

What an incredible reflection of Advent. Pregnancy during Advent… especially third trimester pregnancy, when the baby is coming, so close. There’s a breathlessness, an eager expectation, a hope.

There’s a waiting.  An anticipation.

And something I didn’t expect.  A nervousness. For the pain of labor, sure.  I’m pretty darn scared about that.

Nervousness for the baby, too.  This bundle of joy. This little girl with the joy of Christmas in her eyes (definitely next year at least!).  She’s going to change…everything. Everything.

I think that’s why there are so many references to women in labor when it comes to the spiritual life.  The pain is there, but the joy, the incredible joy, waits at the end.  But the joy…The Messiah…he’s going to change everything. Literally everything.

Every consideration of my little baby girl is a wonder.  Sometimes all my husband and I can do is smile when she kicks. Everything is magical.  The stars shine a little brighter.

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining

It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!

But the pain I will go through will be long, arduous.  Until she appears, and it will all be worth it.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining

Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth


This nine months of weariness, of waiting, of that weird pain in that one spot on my back, carpal tunnel, and, well, what happens to me when I eat spicy food…I can’t even comprehend how much it will be worth it.

A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn


And Israel, which waited for so long for its Savior.  Which suffered for so long. My nine months is nothing in comparison to those longing for the Messiah.  

The incredible joy of meeting my girl…is nothing compared to God With Us.


Fall on your knees

Oh hear the angel voices

Oh night divine.

 

I’m overwhelmed with joy, like a little girl with the reflection of Christmas lights.  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)

(O Holy Night Lyrics found here: https://www.41051.com/xmaslyrics/oholynite.html)

Categories
Advent Christi Feast Days

How Our Advent Tree Came To Life

 

HowOurAdventTreeCametoLife

In today’s world, we find Christmas decorations fighting with Halloween items for space on the store shelves. It is easy to succumb to the temptation of putting up the decorations and tree in time for Thanksgiving. Turkey day may or may not end up being the same weekend as the first Sunday in Advent. This year we have a week’s grace between Thanksgiving weekend and the first Sunday in Advent, but the pressure to get the festivities started now seems to grow every year.

Influenced by our faith journey over our thirty plus years of parenting, our choices of how and when to decorate for Christmas has undergone many changes. As we are originally from Canada, where Thanksgiving falls in October, it wasn’t part of the equation. Instead, we typically chose to put the tree up on our first child’s birthday in early December.  

In the early nineties, we became aware of of Advent as a time of preparing for the birth of Christ and wanted to be more mindful of that. Incorporating the changes this awareness brought about was initially difficult for our oldest children. They were used to a more secular means of preparing for Christmas. As much as I wanted to push the putting up of the actual Christmas tree as close to Christmas Eve as possible, my husband and I came to the conclusion that we needed to move slowly.

One of the first changes we made was to not put all our Christmas ornaments up at once. We still put the tree up early in the season of Advent, but staggered the decorations.  Each Sunday of Advent, we added more Christmas decor to the house. By the fourth Sunday we pretty much had the whole house decorated.

The next change was to make use of the Advent colors in our table settings. For our still very young family, this helped make the change of the church’s season very noticeable. We used either a purple tablecloth or runner for the first, second and fourth week of Advent and a pink one for the third week of Advent. On Christmas morning and St Nicholas’ day the children woke to either a red tablecloth or very festive one on the table. We also really emphasized the joy of the many feast days celebrated during the four to five weeks of Advent.

However, my biggest goal, which was to not decorate our tree until only days before Christmas Eve was not achieved until 2009: our 13th child’s first  Christmas.  


Back in 2002, my husband was laid off and we began our journey of running a family business . The following Christmas our second oldest, determined that all her younger siblings who were still at home should have Christmas memories like hers, showed up from college with a tree tied to the roof of her car and apple cider in the back seat.  Over the next six years, while my husband and I struggled with the challenges of self-employment and raising a growing and still rather young family, our daughter made annual trek home with a tree and cider. Always in early December.

All good things come to an end, and after our daughter married and started her own family I had the opportunity to create a new tradition of putting the tree up closer to Christmas Eve! Yet, after almost thirty years of putting it up during the first week of December, I was loathe to take that step and announce to the children the tree would not go up until December 22nd or 23rd.  

I shared my dilemma with our fifth child and between the two of us we came up with the idea of an Advent tree. We shared this plan with the other children and they were elated. After purchasing some inexpensive purple ornaments and white lights, we spent hours that first Sunday in Advent taking turns coloring the clear light bulbs with purple and pink permanent markers. Hilariously, only the purple-colored bulbs showed any color at all and they looked pink. We didn’t care – we were in love with our Advent tree: the first of many.

Over the past nine years, we have continued to grow our purple and pink ornament collection and have added homemade ones as well. Our first year, a fellow parishioner, gifted us her purple Halloween lights after hearing about our Advent tree. Since then, we have been inspired to watch for purple lights at the dollar stores. I think we still have one strand of the original lights we so painstakingly colored pink and purple.


We have varied from decorating both an Advent tree and a Christmas tree to converting the Advent tree into Christmas tree just a few days before Christmas. This year we will have two trees. The Advent tree will, of course, go up the first Sunday in Advent (December 2nd) and we will have hot cider and simple treats while enjoying family time. Sometime after our ninth child returns from Milan, in late December, we will put up a live tree and decorate it with our Christmas ornaments. Again we will have cider and maybe some eggnog along with Christmas cookies while we listen to Christmas carols and trip over strings and strings of colorful lights.


What are some of the things you do in your family to help your children focus on Advent while the rest of the world has been buying ornaments and stocking stuffers with their Halloween candy? Feel free to share them below in the comments.

Categories
Advent Ink Slingers Instagram Photo Challenge Liturgical Year Rita

2018 Advent Photo Challenge

Advent begins in less than a week! And, like last year, it’s a pretty short Advent too. The fourth week of Advent is only two days long!

The Catholic Sistas community has eagerly begun preparing Advent. Some even began preparing six weeks ago with the CHRISTMAS SHOPPING CHALLENGE

WHAT IS A PHOTO CHALLENGE?

And as we have the past several years for Advent and Lent, we are again offering our annual Advent Photo Challenge as one way of preparing our hearts, minds, and souls for Christmas. We live in a very visually oriented world. We use gifs and emojis to express ourselves. We snap photos without thinking twice, sharing them with friends, family, and strangers across the world. We use these photos to reflect on what’s happening at the moment, what has happened in the past and to reflect on what is to come. And this is why our Advent and Lent Photo Challenges at Catholic Sistas are so helpful for many of us. These Photo Challenges offer a visual way to reflect and share on God’s presence in our lives.

Most of the Photo Challenge words can be found one of the readings of the day, or as a way to reflect on the saint of the day or the season of Advent in general. Some of the words are easy, and some of them are difficult. Some of them will require reflection, and some of them you will know instantly what image you would like to share. It’s like our relationship with God. And that is what makes a Photo Challenge a great opportunity for reflection in Advent and Lent. The opportunity to recognize God presence in our lives in the easy and difficult, simple and complex, in the slow and blink-of-an-eye. 

JOIN US!

And so I invite you all to join my friends, CELESTE, KRISTIN, LAURAMANDI, ROSEMARY, SARAH, and myself (RITA), in the 2018 Advent Photo Challenge. 

You don’t have to be part of the social media world to participate in the 2018 Advent Photo Challenge, though it is fun to be a part of at least one of our main platforms- Facebook or Instagram- to see other’s posts and read their reflections. Because while it’s fun to share your photos and reflections with others, if the Advent Photo Challenge provides you with an opportunity to reflect on the season of Advent and prepare for Christmas, that’s what counts.

To help you in your challenge, below you’ll find the whats, hows and hashtag info for joining the 2018 Advent Photo Challenge. I’m excited to get started on this photo challenge with y’all on Sunday and to see how the Holy Spirit moves us all to reflect on the season of Advent and share our Catholic faith. Happy clicking (or touching your phone screen)!

HOW THE 2018 ADVENT PHOTO CHALLENGE WORKS

Each day has a word associated with it. Snap a photo or find an old photo related to that word. The photo does not have to be faith-themed, as the goal of our photo challenges is for us to see God in our everyday lives.

Use the hashtag #CSAdvent and any other appropriate hashtags (#purple, #tree, #light, etc) when you post your Photo Challenge photos. This allows us all to search Instagram and other social media platforms for other participants (CSAdvent = Catholic Sistas Advent). You can even follow the hashtag on Instagram so you’ll see all the photos posted from everyone participating.

• While our main platforms for the 2017 Advent Photo Challenge are Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, we are present on many other platforms. Tag us with @CatholicSistas on INSTAGRAMPINTEREST and FACEBOOK, and @Catholic_Sistas on TWITTER. And if you’re blogging about your Advent Photo Challenge, link back to us or comment below with a link to your post.

Download the 2018 CS Advent Graphic for quick reference. Note that the dates of the weekends are a different color to help visually break up the days.

• Be sure to share the graphic with others and invite them to join the challenge too!

• And considering join us on Facebook in our group CATHOLIC SISTAS – THE COFFEE HOUSE. Here we can share pictures of the challenge and we get to know each other in a private setting. Please request to be added and we will approve you as soon a moderator can.