Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Merry Christmas 2014!

Merry Christmas! I pray that you and your family have been enjoying wonderful celebrations. We certainly have done our share of gifting and feasting and celebrating here. I hope to post some pictures soon.

I've been thinking a lot this week about the strange dynamic that it seems easier (for me personally as well as for our entire culture) to prepare and anticipate than to actually celebrate. As Catholics we are called to prepare for Christmas during Advent and then to celebrate and savor the great Mystery of the Incarnation throughout the Octave of Christmas and indeed all the way through the Epiphany. This is such a great and beautiful gift. Unfortunately "in the world" ALL of the celebrating is before Christmas Day. The preparation and celebration are tied up together in a frenzy of frantic activity that culminates on December 25th. After that, everybody drops into a collective heap of exhaustion. No more carols. The trees and lights come down. Life goes back to "normal" pretty quickly.

Yet the Church calls us to go about things differently. During Advent we are to prepare spiritually and enter into a time of prayerful waiting. Then, beginning on Christmas Day, we are to break into song and feasting and gift-giving and celebrating. Christmas, the celebration of the Word becoming Flesh and dwelling among us, is more than a day of over-indulgence after weeks of frenzied activity. It's a time to truly rejoice, savor, wonder, ponder, give thanks. We need a whole season to truly enter into that great Mystery that dramatically altered the course of human history. Contrary to how we may picture it in our heads and our Nativity scenes, the angels, shepherds, wisemen, drummer boy, etc. did not all show up immediately upon Christ's birth for one great "birthday party." The seeking and rejoicing and singing and celebrating were drawn out over a season of time. And we continue to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus today. He wants to be born anew in our hearts. He wants us to receive the gift of His peace and love in new ways each year.

It seems ridiculous, but it's actually easier (for me and so many others) to shop, wrap, bake, clean, decorate,..... than it is to truly enter into the joy of the celebration itself. When all of the "work" is done, what's left? What am I supposed to do now? Pondering, allowing my heart to be filled with joy and peace, relaxing, being present in the moment... why do these things feel uncomfortable? God entered into this world in the form of a tiny baby... without my help. He doesn't ask me to do anything but "come and adore." He doesn't ask me to clean the stable, buy clothes for the baby, find a place for the Holy Family to stay. He simply asks me to make room in my heart for the Baby Jesus to dwell.

And so I try. "O come let us adore Him." I sing it again and again. I quiet my heart and let Him in. And it's a beauty and a peace that surpasses all of the sparkly lights, fancy gifts, and festive parties. It's true joy.

It's joy that can get lost in the busy-ness where so many of us dwell nearly all the time. I pray that more people will learn to stop and savor. I wish I had my phone with me tonight when I ran into the grocery store for a few items. As I entered the store, the first two things I saw were a Valentine display and an arrangement of Spring flowers. On December 30th. Already, we're on to the next thing... anticipating to the point where we don't enter into the current precious moment.

Lord, please don't give up on my busy, distracted heart. I want to rush and plan and prepare... to control... to make things "perfect" in my own way. Yet I know you are always calling to me, asking me to make room in my heart for You. Your ways are perfect. Help me to accept your grace and enter into each moment and each season with a heart that is open and free and truly present. I love you and adore you. With the angels I rejoice and sing your praises. Amen.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Michigan Family Christmas Celebration 2014

Here's a (not so) little photo album from our Christmas celebration with Jon's family in Michigan last weekend.

We had a great time visiting the lovely Santa House in Jon's hometown (Midland). I'm not sure how many more years we're going to "get away with" this kind of stuff.... but the boys were super sweet about it this year.

Nothing beats swimming in the winter time. We were lucky to have the hotel pool pretty much to ourselves all weekend.

We were blessed to be able to attend Jon's cousins' Christmas celebration. This hardly ever coincides with our trip North. The day included a special prayer and remembrance of Jon's sister Kay who passed away in July.
The kids had a blast playing basketball, floor hockey, and shuffleboard.



We LOVE spending time with our cousins!
These two are hilarious.
Born a week apart, they really love each other.

Emmett graduated from Central Michigan University while we were there! We are so proud of him and excited about his future.

Grandma with all of her grandchildren ---

We made Grandma a "big hug" from the grandkids. When she' cold and lonely this winter, she can wrap up in it and know how much we all love her.

Jon's sister Nancy hosted our family party at her lovely condo. Thanks Nancy! We had such a nice time.

Adam's cousin Addie made him a nature survival kit.
Ray got a skateboard from Aunt Nancy!
So much for our "no guns" policy.
We are now the proud owners of two Nerf "machine guns."

It's hard living so far away from Jon's family. We're thankful for their love and support. We love and miss them, especially during the long months of tax season.

And finally, Adam enjoying one of Ray's special birthday gifts from Grandma ---

Monday, December 22, 2014

Watching and Waiting

All of the candles are lit. The Jesse tree is filled with beautiful ornaments. It's been a lovely, prayerful Advent here. We've greatly enjoyed these two beautiful books --- 

Ann Voskamp, author of A Thousand Gifts and blogger at www.aholyexperience.com, has given us profound insights on which to reflect as we've read and prayed together each day. I'm so glad I purchased both books. The family book has the Scripture stories and reflections for the Jesse Tree readings. It's beautifully written and illustrated. The Greatest Gift follows the same stories and digs deeper for adult reflection. Together we've pondered God's "unconditional, unbeatable, unfailing, unwrappable love" for us as we've journeyed through the stories of God's grace in the Old Testament. I've been deeply inspired by the reflections in The Greatest Gift every single day. Truly, the hustle and bustle of the season are NOT what it's all about. God's coming to us at Christmas is NOT something we can earn or "be ready for." It's not based on our performance, organization, or perfectionism. We are called to create an open space within us, to receive the love and grace of God who came to save us and wants to be the King of our hearts, the Lord of our lives.
Beginning on December 17th we have been singing the O Antiphons. We still love the O Antiphon House I made with our homeschool group several years ago. As we turn the blocks each day, we see how the first letters of the Latin terms for each title of Christ spell out "Ero Cras" ("He Comes") and we rejoice.

This year I made these "O" ornaments for each antiphon. We've been adding them to our Jesse Tree.

The final Advent tradition we implemented this year is decorating our Christmas tree with purple and pink ornaments (which I bought at deep discount after Christmas last year). After Mass on Sunday we finally switched over to our collection of Christmas ornaments. It was nice having the simple pink and purple to remind us that we've been in a time of waiting and prayer.

Again I thank God for the beautiful Seasons of the Liturgical Year. Around and around the cycle we go, each time different because we are different. Each year we enter more deeply into the mysteries that we celebrate. It is one of the great joys of teaching and living the Catholic Faith with our children. Each year they grow to understand and cherish the stories, prayers, rituals, and traditions more and more. We learn and grow together through the years.
And now we are SO CLOSE to the Feast and Season of the celebration of the Incarnation. Don't forget to sing those Christmas carols for twelve (or more) days and proclaim the Good News of Jesus' birth into our world and our hearts.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Ray's 10th Birthday Celebration

We had lots of fun celebrating Ray's 10th birthday.

The boys spent the night at my mom's the night before Ray's birthday (while Jon and I went to a concert). Jon and I came over for a celebratory breakfast and the birthday festivities began.

Ray received the highly-anticipated traditional 10th birthday gift from Pappy (my dad) in the mail ---
Instead of a more traditional party, Ray opted for a "day of fun" with his brother, cousins, and friend. So, the Saturday after Ray's birthday we rounded up this motley crew for an action-packed day of adventure.

1st stop ---- crafting at Home Depot. This was Jon's idea. It was FREE.... and a huge hit. The kids made Christmas themed yard stakes.

Next stop, the bowling alley --

 We bowled a few games, had pizza for lunch, played in the arcade, and did Glow Putt.

Bowling Alley Selfie

Spontaneous Dance Party

After about 3.5 hours at the bowling alley, the kids were sufficiently tired out. They convinced us to take them home to play video games. Although we had planned to then go to a movie, everyone was happy to stay home and watch "Earth to Echo" On Demand.
In the evening, the "grown ups" of the family came over for dinner and we had cake, presents, etc.

I love Adam's expression here!
 Happy birthday Ray!