Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Open the Door: A Journey to the True Self by Joyce Rupp

We all go through many doors during each day, but do we think about the significance of them?  
I didn’t ponder this nearly as much until reading this book that is meant to be read over a period of six weeks, but which took me significantly longer to get through. The imagery, invitations to meditation, original prayers, and passages are so rich I didn’t want to rush through Open the Door and possibly miss some of the ah-ha moments I reached through reflection over a period of several months.
I began reading Open the Door last May.  I filled up two pages of my journal contemplating the type of door there is to my heart, one of the suggested exercises presented early on.  Another question that kept me writing for a while is: “Who are the significant people who helped you find the concealed door to your deeper self?”  My list contains a number of family members and friends as well as those children for whom I nannied.
Using the metaphor of doors to our heart, Rupp talks about the importance of being intentional regarding the spiritual life.  There have been a number of times over the past six months that I haven’t been good about setting time for prayer, reading spiritual books, or sitting in sacred silence to discern God’s Will.  I’ve felt distant from God though I have been able to be present and fully participate at Mass.  Reading this book and answering the questions within has helped me identify where, how, and why some changes could make things better in my faith life.   
Regardless of where you are in your spiritual journey and what the door to your heart looks like right now, there is something in this book, probably many things, that will inspire you to move into a deeper relationship with the Lord and a better understanding of yourself. 

I’d definitely add this to the list of Joyce Rupp books that I absolutely love which includes but is not limited to: Fresh Bread and Other Gifts of Spiritual Nourishment 
.  To find out more about Open the Door or to order your own copy, click here.  I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  

Friday, May 4, 2018

Seven Sacred Pauses: Living Mindfully Through the Hours of the Day by Macrina Wiederkehr

I first discovered and came to enjoy the reflections of Macrina Wiederkehr several years back through her multiple entries in the magazine Living Faith.  Seven Sacred Pauses by this author is a collection of prayerful, lyrical meditations on the Liturgy of the Hours.  It’s not a how-to book describing the right way to pray them, but instead, an offering of contemplations on those special times of the day.  Who better than a Benedictine sister who lives in a monastic community to put a new spin on an age-old tradition.
There are original prayers, poems, and personal stories included for each of the seven sacred pauses that are filled with beautiful imagery and profound ponderings.  Reading this book was praying for me.  It calmed me, made me contemplate many aspects of faith, love, charity, service, and mindfulness.  Seven Sacred Pauses opened my heart to new possibilities. 
The closest I have come to praying the Liturgy of the Hours has been when I’ve used the Magnificat magazine for my daily prayer times.  I’ve never had my own breviary, and I worry it would make me anxious to have so many prayers I’d feel like I should fit into the day. 
I could certainly handle picking one prayer from each of the suggested ones in Seven Sacred Pauses and use those to help me “live mindfully through the hours of the day.”  I could make my own little prayer book to use or I could put my favorite prayers that I haven’t yet memorized on my phone.  I could also pray the Liturgy of the Hours using an app and cease to stress over how many of the prayers I manage to get to each day.  We'll see how God leads me to more time with Him.  
I highly recommend Seven Sacred Pauses for anyone who would like a fresh perspective on the Liturgy of the Hours.  Seven Sacred Pauses: Singing Mindfully Dawn Through Dark by Velma Frye is a companion CD available to go with this book.  I have not heard it, yet, but I’d like to.
I received a free copy of this book from Ave Maria Press in exchange for an honest book review.
For more information or to purchase your own copy, click here

Macrina's musings can also be found on her blog www.macrina-underthesycamoretree.blogspot.com

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brené Brown

Being brave, courageous, and also, vulnerable are challenges I continue to face and appreciate reading about.  Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brené Brown is another book well worth reading, as all four of her other books have been. There’s an art to standing up for yourself, yet still being kind and gentle with others. 
Through personal stories and using examples from her ample research, Brené talks about how confronting shame, embracing the desire for true belonging, and forging ahead are necessary steps for fulfillment in life.     
The four main principles of the book are:
1.      People are hard to hate close up.  Move in.
2.      Speak truth to BS. Be civil.
3.      Hold hands. With strangers.
4.      Strong back. Soft front. Wild heart.
 So what are the characteristics of a wild heart?  “The mark of a wild heart is living out the paradox of love in our lives. It’s the ability to be tough and tender, excited and scared, brave and afraid—all in the same moment.  It’s showing up in our vulnerability and our courage, being both fierce and kind” (p. 155).
The title and wording of this book make me think of a movie I saw many years ago that spoke of bravery, courage, and standing up for yourself.  The movie that came out in 1991 is called Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken.  In the film, a young woman with a passionate spirit goes against what everyone else is telling her is possible and advisable.  What she does is both very daring and very dangerous.  The stakes are high, but her spirit isn’t broken even after a serious accident.  
She’s definitely left standing alone as she pursues her dreams.  Vulnerability, bravery, and courage are necessities she doesn’t have the luxury of leaving behind.  Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken is both a statement about certain horses as well as the female lead of the film.  It’s also a message loud and clear in Braving the Wilderness.  We can triumph over adversity if we remain unabashedly true to who we are regardless of the situation or circumstances.          
For a researcher-storyteller-professor-public speaker like Brené, that’s sometimes meant wearing jeans and cowboy boots when the prescribed dress code calls for business attire and saying no to speaking engagements that would compromise her integrity because they’d be limiting what she talks about and how.  For the rest of us, bravery and courage might look completely different.  The point is that we discover who we truly are and refuse to deny that identity when others are upset, confused, or bothered by it.    
“Our call to courage is to protect our wild heart against constant evaluation—especially our own (p.158).”
I am often reminded of how vulnerability and courage can go hand-in-hand as I listen to the talks the women on team for the upcoming May Cursillo have given during our formation process.  It is nothing short of astounding what some of these women have lived through.  Their courage in sharing their witness with others is both brave and inspiring to me. 

I highly recommend reading Braving the Wilderness along with Brené’s other books.  For more information about the book or Brené Brown, click here

Monday, April 9, 2018

An Enjoyable Team Overnight at Shalom House

This past Friday, the team preparing for the May 17-20, 2018, Cursillo had our overnight at Shalom House.  Being back there always holds good memories for me as I was there for the last team on which I served in April 2014 as well as for each of the retreats we had during our Spiritual Direction Institute two-year course. 
We didn’t have assigned rooms, so I plopped my things down in a front bedroom without knowing who would claim the other twin bed.  While waiting for the rest of the team to arrive, I went and sat in the hammock, gazing up at the trees.
 I thought about how I’d rather be an evergreen tree instead of the kind whose leaves fade, turn brown, wither, and fall to the ground.  Having sustenance, being able to provide shade and beauty year-round seems more desirable.  I know in reality my faith more closely resembles a deciduous tree.  At times, there are little buds and leaves sprouting after a long, barren winter.  During other periods, the leaves are full and green before they go out in a blaze of glory.      
We had a delicious dinner of stuffed shells with meatballs that one of the team members who is on staff at Shalom House prepared.  Dessert was angel food cake with strawberries and whipped cream.  The food there is always very good!  
The Reconciliation service we held in the living room of the house where we were staying.  Fr. David Stanfill, who is one of the spiritual directors on our weekend, was there to hear confessions.  He was joined by Fr. Alexander Muddu, who is the pastor of Our Lady of the Annunciation in Ladysmith.  Another one of our spiritual directors, who is also our main man for music, Mike Walsh, played guitar throughout the service.  Sometimes we would join in singing various hymns.  We also read aloud a series of examination of conscience reflection questions. 
Several people hadn’t finished their homework for the weekend, so they were up late talking, laughing, and hurriedly writing.  I used the time to relax, journal, and draw.  I rejoined the gang in the living room for a bit before turning in for the night. 
In the morning, we shared breakfast together and then did affirmations for each person.  One of the ladies gave us her talk.  Lunch was a Shalom House favorite: taco salad.  Before heading out, our various groups had break-out planning sessions. I’m serving on the Liturgy team this time.  I drove home feeling a deeper bond with the team and with greater anticipation and excitement for the upcoming Cursillo.  Mission accomplished.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Boundless Compassion: Creating a Way of Life by Joyce Rupp

Boundless Compassion: Creating a Way of Life by Joyce Rupp, a six-week program towards deeper awareness, attitude, and action, has been my companion over the past couple of months.  Prayers of Boundless Compassion is a perfect complement and extra resource to this process.  Joyce Rupp has for many years been one of my favorite authors, so I was thrilled when given the opportunity to read and review two of her latest books.

Her beautiful prose and prayerful poetry kept the literary side of me content, while the concepts, questions, and reflections on compassion challenged me to keep growing.  I have a long ways to go to grow into a person of unconditional love and boundless compassion, but Joyce Rupp presents some basics to jumpstart the journey.  For me, the concept of needing to have three things in place for there to be compassion—awareness, the right attitude, and subsequent action—really opened my eyes.

I still have little scraps of paper near where I sit to have my breakfast in the morning to remind me of the four principles that are the foundation of compassion toward self as well as other people: mindfulness, forgiveness, nonviolence, and nonjudgment.  If I took nothing else away from this book, I could easily remember three things needed and the four foundational aspects of compassion.  With those memorized, I can be quickly drawn back into the lessons I’ve learned.

Each day begins with a quote and ends with reflection questions, a prayer, and a Scripture verse.  There are six topics, one for each week of the study.  On the seventh day of the week, there is an invitation to reflect and review the material from the previous six days.  I moved rather slowly through Boundless Compassion because I wanted to spend time with each of the meditations and prayers.  I was often inspired to journal my answers to the reflection questions, as they really provided some food for thought.   

As I read the daily reflections, I also chose a prayer or two each day to pray from the Prayers of Boundless Compassion book.  I would highly recommend using the two books together.  I did the study on my own, but the way it’s set up, it would be perfect for a group as well. 

I rarely reread books unless they really speak to me.  There were several passages I read more than once, and I plan to hold onto both books as a resource for future prayer on my own and with faith groups of which I am a member.  

It is my sincere hope and prayer that one day I will get a chance to meet Joyce Rupp in person and take one of her workshops on Boundless Compassion.  


Click on the following for more information about Joyce Rupp or to order your own copy of Boundless Compassion or Prayers of Boundless Compassion.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Our 18th Triduum as a Couple: The Memories, the Anticipation, and the Joy

On Monday of Holy Week, we had a special EDGE night for our middle schoolers.  We set it up so they could get a taste of what they would experience if they came to take part in the three holiest days of the Church calendar, the Holy Triduum.  

Each middle schooler and their small group teachers got a chance to pray the Stations of the Cross in the sanctuary, wash each other's feet (or hands), and then they came to the parish hall where I talked with them about the significance of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday. 

For my presentation, I used some PowerPoint slides I’d made and some pictures from a very special Holy Week in 2000 when Kevin had come down to spend the Triduum with me.  It was after that whirlwind of church services together that led Kevin back to the Catholic faith in which he was raised and away from which he’d fallen for decades.

I ended my presentation with a photo of Kevin to which I’d added a halo for dramatic effect.  

After all, the priest ahead of our Catholic Campus Ministry when I was at Hollins University had found out he’d driven over 600 miles to spend four days going to church with me and aptly named Kevin, “the patron saint of boyfriends.”

This year, Kevin and I were grateful we were both well enough to participate fully in our 18th Triduum as a couple.  It’s hard to believe it’s been that long since Kevin returned to the church and began going to Mass on his own. 

Thursday night we went to a different parish in order to hear our dear brother in Christ, Deacon John Baab, preach.  Friday night we returned to our parish, St. Michael the Archangel, for the Veneration of the Cross.  We were awed and amazed by the beauty of the service.  It was extra special that Vivi, the oldest of the silly sisters for whom I used to nanny, was there with her dad.  It was her first time coming to Good Friday service, and she did well. At one point, she fell asleep on my lap for a little while. It was very sweet.

The Easter Vigil was quite the event.  There were several Baptisms, Confirmations, and First Communions in addition to the usual series of readings and songs that serve as a summary of the Catholic faith.  The environment, liturgy, and music were nothing short of breath-taking.  Kevin and I were grateful to be there and happy I’d been able to talk my mom into joining us.

Afterward, we went to IHOP to celebrate Easter, a tradition we’d begun years ago with our beloved brother John.  

Today the feast continues at my mom’s place.  We’re looking forward to celebrating this Easter season with family and friends!

GOD'S NOT DEAD, HE'S SURELY ALIVE! ALLELUIA!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Loss of a Loved One, Giving Spiritual Direction, and The Seven Sorrows of Mary

A few months ago, I gave spiritual direction at an Ultreya for the first time since Kevin and I went through the Spiritual Direction Institute (SDI).  I was actually pretty excited since I'd served in every other role at Ultreyas with the exception of that one.  The woman giving the witness talk has been a friend of our family for many years.  She told me she was going to speak on the Seven Sorrows of Mary and asked if I thought it would be an appropriate topic in the middle of Advent.  

I said definitely!  I could think of a number of people who were facing their first holiday season without a loved one.  It's hard navigating those first few months not knowing when you'll be knocked over while riding the waves of grief

Here’s how I began my spiritual direction reflection that evening:  “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” we hear over and over again during the Advent and Christmas seasons.  Well, for some it’s a difficult period to get through, especially if it’s the first holidays since a loved one has passed away.  I know I tend to think of my dad and grandparents who have passed away when our family gathers.   

Over the holidays, many people concern themselves with buying gifts for people.  In fact, some get really caught up in that aspect of getting ready instead of concentrating on spiritual preparation.  What does God want for the holidays and all holy days?  He wants the best we have to offer!

What greater or more perfect gift can we offer the Lord than Jesus Christ Himself?

I’ve gotten in the habit of praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy for a person when I find out they are near death or have already entered into the next life.  One of the prayers exemplifies the best gift we can give God: “Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and the Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins, and those of the whole world.”

I also shared with the Cursillistas gathered a prayer I know in both English and French that is perfect for devoting all we have and are to the Blessed Mother.  The following is an excerpt from the Act of Consecration to Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Wisdom, by the Hands of Mary by St. Louis de Montfort: “In the presence of all the heavenly court, I choose thee this day for my Mother and Queen. I deliver and consecrate to thee, as thy slave, my body and soul, my goods, both interior and exterior, and even the value of all my good actions, past, present, and future; leaving to thee the entire and full right of disposing of me and all that belongs to me, without exception, according to thy good pleasure, for the greater glory of God, in time and eternity.”

Christ’s Passion (a great sorrow) leads to Our Eternal Salvation (our greatest joy)

With deep love can come piercing sorrow and profound joy.


Reflection: How has the Lord used one of your sorrows to bring you and/or others closer to Him?

My Prayer: Lord, please open our hearts and minds to the ways in which dealing with sorrow and grief can help bring us closer to You and one another. Amen.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Riding Dirty (Literally and Figuratively)

I spent some time with my niece and nephew the other day.  We hung out in front of their house, and they mainly played in the dirt.  The five-year-old pretended to be a ninja and dug holes in the yard with sticks.  In the beginning, the 17-month-old would grab a handful of dirt and put the little pile directly on my jeans.  I asked her not to since I was planning on going right from their house to church.  She dropped the next few handfuls on the ground.  I thought I'd gotten through to her until she unzipped my coat, unzipped my red fleece, and deposited the next clump directly onto my turtleneck.  What a little skunk!

I found myself brushing off dirt, picking it out of my clothing and attempting, as best I could, to keep it out of my hair and face.  It occurred to me a little while later that I should have been significantly more uncomfortable that I had dirt on my soul than on my clothing.  I hadn't been to confession in over a month, but there I was bothered more that I had dirt all over my jacket, shirt, and jeans than I was that I had sins on my heart.  I wondered, "what will people think?" when I should be more concerned with "what will God think?"

After playing outside with them and going for a walk, I headed to St. Peter's for Reconciliation and 12:05 Mass.  I didn't have time to take a shower before going, but at least I was spiritually clean before I did the rest of my errands. 

For Reflection: When was the last time you went to Reconciliation?  Do you tend to be more concerned about your outward appearance than the state of your soul?

My Prayer: Lord, help us to place greater emphasis on being spiritually clean, healthy, and whole than we do on our physical appearance. Amen. 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Top 17 Blog Posts and Photos of 2017

Here are the Top 17 blog posts and photos of 2017 in descending order.  Thank you for all of you who have been reading and who have influenced our lives this year.  We are grateful for the many blessings we shared with family and friends!





 






 







The Joy of Creativity Journal (and My Sister) Have Been My Inspiration

My sister has all of these great books on creativity, writing, arts and crafts, journaling, etc.  I love looking through them, but I usually don't purchase those types of books for myself.  In her infinite gift-giving wisdom, she got me The Joy of Creativity for Christmas.

Every day since then, I have written, drawn, or done a collage on one or more pages in the journal.  I haven't been good about writing regularly in my boring wide rule composition style notebook, but this is a much more inviting way to go.  Once I started working on the collage, I remembered where I'd stashed a pile of collage materials from the previous fall.  I pulled those out and mixed them with the new items I'd cut out from magazines to use.

My sister has inspired me in many ways, often without knowing it.  Though super-busy with two young children, she still seeks out well-written books and reads voraciously.  She does things to keep her creative juices flowing beyond decorating (which she does very well).  The other gift I'm excited about is a copy of one of her favorite books: Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers.  I haven't read anything by her, so I'm looking forward to it.

Though I work at a Montessori school, I've gotten to see first-hand how effective the methods and materials are when used in the home at my sister and brother-in-law's house.  They were brave enough to do the full Montessori bedroom (no crib, mattress on the floor and a child safe room).  They use many of the positive discipline techniques we do in the classroom.   


Speaking of ways my sister has influenced me, she has living plants at her house. After years of not being able to keep a plant alive, I have several small plants that have made it past several months in our place.  I've finally learned not to overwater them.  I still need to get around to putting many of them in pots, but I'm grateful to have taken initial steps to get some greenery in here.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

On the First Day of Christmas, My True Loves Gave to Me...

 A relaxing morning to open presents underneath the tree with some of our favorite people.

We got over to my sister and brother-in-law's house at a reasonable hour and gradually got into opening presents once the munchkins had eaten some breakfast.

It was delightful not to be in a mad rush to do everything.  In previous years, my mom, sister, Kevin, and I have gone to Mass on Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve.  This year we went the night before, so we were able to spend as much time as we wanted opening gifts and hanging out together.

It worked out very well.  Our nephew dove into his new Ninjago Lego sets.  Our niece and my youngest sister had fun with her new Play-doh.  Of course, there were breaks in there to read books. We all enjoyed the quiche my brother-in-law made.  It had broccoli and little pieces of sausage in it, and the crust was perfect.   

It's a tradition in our family to open stockings first.  It's also a thing that we go downstairs youngest to oldest so we all see the tree and presents at the same time.  (Santa didn't wrap everything under our tree when we were growing up.)  Both our niece and nephew had been downstairs past the tree a number of times and weren't begging their parents to drop everything and let them open their gifts.  It's possible that our nephew wasn't worried, because he had whispered to Mimi (what he calls my mom) more than once what he wanted her to get for him.  He knew she'd come through.

Both kids got some fun toys that allow them to explore and use their imaginations while developing their fine motor skills. (And the early childhood specialists rejoiced!) Their whole family loves books, so there were definitely some of those underneath the tree.

I'm delighted with my gifts and the goodies left in our stockings.  My favorite gift of the season has been quality time with my family hosted at their places (my mom's and sister's).

The material gift I'm most excited about I received has gotten my creative juices flowing: The Joy of Creativity.  I've done more than a page of writing, drawing, and/or made a collage (some of the suggested activities in the journal) every day since Christmas.

Kevin and I gave the gift of year-long memberships to Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens to each other.  We both love spending time outside, and my honey knows that's one of my absolute favorite places to take a bazillion photos.

This year Kevin and I opted to give everyone gift cards and buy a book for each of the kids to open Christmas morning.  Since other people hosted the gatherings yet again this year, we thought it would be a good way to contribute to their generous hospitality, something we definitely couldn't manage last year when I was recovering from surgery last December and all the associated expenses.

My sister takes after my father in that she likes to get a live tree and have it trimmed as close to perfect as possible.  She keeps to white lights and an elegant bird motif.  On the top of the tree is a bird's nest with painted eggs resting inside.

There are many reasons Kevin and I are grateful for family. Two of those are that they are willing to host things at their homes and that they have gone to the trouble of making their houses look warm and welcoming.

We don't have a very big place. It's not kid-friendly and the space we do have is taken up by our belongings so we don't usually have more than one person over at a time.  Here at the Potter residence, we did about as much decorating as we were up for last year.  I got the Advent wreath out, but we never ended up lighting it (or the candles). I also pulled out our tissue paper wrapped nativity set, but since I didn't get around to putting that up before December 25th, I put it back in the box of Christmas things we keep in our office.  At least we have the two-foot tree our friend gave us sitting on a table.  It's not decorated or anything (the table or the tree), but it's visible.  Neither of us felt like hanging lights in our windows.

This year, I feel we've done more to prepare for Christ's coming in our hearts by spending quality time with people we love.  That's always been my favorite gift and primary love language.   

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Christmas Season Highlights

The family decorated tree, stockings hung by the chimney with care,
and lots of presents, evident that my mom had been there.
This year we did our usual three family traditions at my mom’s place: decorating the Christmas tree, baking and decorating sugar cookies, and having an evening of hors-d'oeuvres near the brightly lit tree while listening to Christmas music.  

The last of these traditions, we would typically do on Christmas Eve, but since that fell on Sunday this year, which also happened to be the fourth week of Advent, then it meant going to Mass in the morning for that obligation and that evening or the next morning for Christmas.

My nephew was very helpful in decorating the tree.  Since my mom is laid-back, he got to put whatever ornaments wherever he felt like it. Growing up, my dad was the one who would have a fit if ornaments were placed too close together or if there were too many of one kind.  My sister has inherited his love of order and beauty when it comes to their Christmas tree, which has a bird theme.  (A photo of their tree will appear in a subsequent post devoted to Christmas day.)

Our family tree has always been an eclectic mix of hand-made and store-bought ornaments that we’ve collected over the years. Many are ones that my sisters and I made in school or during our arts and crafts undertakings at home.  My mom sewed the tree skirt, which has angels on it.  Ever since the fateful year when misfortune seemed my mom’s lot at least in terms of Christmas trees, she’s had an artificial tree.   


On the Friday before Christmas, Kevin and I joined my sister, brother-in-law, and our niece and nephew for the GardenFest of Lights at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens.  I’d only been there once during the Christmas season and seen some of their light display.  It was Kevin’s first time ever seeing Gardenfest.  The theme this year was Stories in Lights.  I recognized and have read a number of the children’s books on which the different displays were based. 



Kevin had fun wearing the one Christmas sweatshirt he has.  He purchased it last year and donned it for several festive occasions.  My husband loves the minions, and he is a good person who generally stays out of trouble, which is why I appreciate this particular challenge to Santa even more.




Christmas Eve Mass at our church was quite beautiful.  We got there around 9:15, so we could hear the full choir, orchestra, and bell choir begin with some celestial-sounding carols.  Our pastor Fr. Dan Brady presided at Mass.  For part of his homily, he played the guitar and had us sing with him to Little Drummer Boy. My mom mentioned having seen the accompanying post on Facebook by a  mutual friend of ours who is an opera singer as well as a midwife. 

Below is a video of the choir and orchestra I took at the end of Christmas Eve Mass: 



Monday, December 4, 2017

That Elf on the Shelf, I Will Talk to Him Myself

Several children at school and at church have talked about the Elf on the Shelf reappearing in their homes.  I smile as they talk about the crazy places they’ve found their Elf.  I’m tempted to have one for the classrooms, too.  If we’re going to make them feel like someone is always watching and listening, we might as well go all out and have it at school as well.  

Another teacher I work with overheard a conversation between two students about what might happen if the Elf or Santa could see and hear everything that someone said or did.  This is a reasonable concept to present to a child or an adult, because God can and does hear and see everything we do.  Much more important than what appears underneath the Christmas tree or "stockings hung by the chimney with care" is what happens after we die. 

Sure, if you pester your younger siblings, the Elf on the Shelf will see it and may tell Santa.  It’s an interesting threat for parents to use during the month of December, but isn’t it more important to teach them that someone who loves them more than anyone else can and does see and hear all that we do, good, bad, and indifferent?

God is watching all of us.  He knows if we’ve been naughty or nice.  He knows if we’ve been sleeping or up watching Netflix.  He sees how we treat our spouse, children, siblings, friends, strangers, co-workers,  the cashier at the grocery store, the person who took our spot in the parking lot…Isn’t that fact something more essential to consider?  Not only does God see everything, but the kids see an awful lot as well. 

Maybe instead of spending so much time building up the Elf on the Shelf as Santa’s secret helper/insider spy, we adults could think some more about how our actions affect others.  We could use some extra prayer time to listen to what God is trying to say to us, what He would like us to do. 

Don’t get me wrong.  Some people have made the Elf on the Shelf an artform.  Their creativity in moving Santa's little helper to different places has been thoroughly amusing.  The photos I have posted here are ones that a friend from high school posted on Facebook.  Her Elf certainly gets around!  

Every time you see the Elf on the Shelf, say a prayer. It could be short or long, one that involves you and/or others you care about.  Have that silly Elf help you grow into your best self by letting it challenge you throughout this season to be careful of your words and actions.  Our loving God is always watching and listening.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Advent Week 1: Bring It On

At the beginning of this past week, I wasn’t feeling ready to hear Christmas music or even pull out the Advent decorations, but now I’m more comfortable.  

I’m still enjoying taking photos of leaves changing colors.  The ones that go out in a blaze of glory are my favorites.  The 60-degree weather we’ve been having is fine by me. I took a really long walk this afternoon, with my camera, of course. 

Reflecting upon my life last December, it’s much easier this year for me to get into Advent and the Christmas spirit.  I’m not preparing for major surgery, seeing more doctors and nurses than I could easily keep track of, traveling out-of-state, or feeling terrified of what organs they may remove while I’m under anesthesia. 

Fortunately, things are much different this year.  I’ve been able to go to daily Mass frequently. Though we still have medical and travel expenses to pay off, I’m not nearly as stressed out about our finances.  Kevin has gotten the raise he was promised months ago, and I have consistent hours at work in addition to the opportunity to sub fairly often, if I want to.  We’ve even been in a position to help a family who is really struggling right now due to their own major health challenges.

We get to spend this entire December surrounded by family and friends, taking part in fun activities and participating in the ministries we usually do.  I’ve reconnected with people we know and love through Cursillo, Christ Renews His Parish, Transformation Prayer Ministry and EDGE (middle school religious education), and I have or plan to see each of those groups at least once between  Thanksgiving and Christmas. The disconnect and isolation we felt and experienced last year has disappeared.  

Lord, thank you for bringing about some much-needed healing and change over the past year.  Please help us be open to the ways You wish to work in and through us this Advent and Christmas season.  Prepare us in mind, body, and spirit for the coming of Your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.
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