Day 31 – A New Beginning

Well, I’ve finally hit my initial goal of 31 days of blogging!  (And I will stop numbering my posts now.) I didn’t complete all 31 posts in 1 month, but I did manage to do it in 2.  Given that I’ve never done this sort of writing before, I feel that’s not half bad. “Started a blog” could be checked off my bucket list, if I had one.  “Make a bucket list” should be the next thing I do!

I’ve found that so far, blogging has definitely been a worthwhile journey.  Thank you – each one of you – for reading.  I know your time is valuable and I’m honored that you spare a bit of it to read my two cents.

Thank you, also, to everyone who has encouraged me with your compliments, ‘likes,’ and ‘shares.’  There’s simply no way I can fully convey just how much your appreciation means to me.  I am very blessed to enjoy the writing process, but gifted so much more by friends cheering me on. Thank you. Thank you.

So – today’s post is about a new beginning.  Why? Well, because it’s the first day of Advent.

My family and I had a great Thanksgiving.  We are also looking forward to Christmas. We were talking about getting our tree today, but for some reason, and I couldn’t put my finger on why, planning to do this seemed a little rushed to me. And then, as we settled into the pew at Mass this morning, I realized I was feeling sluggish.  It was not the tryptophan from turkey leftovers.  No, I just felt caught in a sort of no-man’s land….I was mentally done with the Thanksgiving holiday but not yet ready to start preparing for Christmas.

Then I grabbed the Missal. In the Catholic Church, this book contains all of the scripture readings selected for the church worldwide for the entire year. Churches replace their Missals annually, and the church year begins with Advent. So basically, I thought, maybe today I start again.

I pondered this more as I heard the first reading, from the Book of Isaiah 63 and 64, and especially the last lines, “Yet, O LORD, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.”

I am a work in His hands. And He is patient with me.  Since Advent is about waiting for His coming at Christmas, the Lord is not caught up in the hustle and bustle of the so-called “holiday season” that has become so commercialized in our predominantly secular society.  No, He has no part in that. So, I participated in Communion with Him and gave Him myself as I was, and He came and made today about accepting the process of preparation for things to come.  He made it about taking the necessary time to do that.  Nice and easy.  Peacefully and slowly.  Not on the world’s time.

Instead of rushing to pull out the decorative embellishments that say to the world “we’re celebrating,” I removed clutter and cleaned to make room for what’s to come.  I’ll do more tomorrow, but I feel better already.

 

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Day 30 – Baby Love

On my husband’s side of the family, we had a new reason to be grateful this Thanksgiving – our newborn niece – who was exactly 7 weeks old on the holiday itself.  She is a beautiful and tiny little cherub, with long fingers and long legs. It was fun to speculate about what she might do with her life, and to study her face, trying to discern whom she most closely resembles.

The immediate family ate dinner together, and my husband’s large extended family joined us for dessert.  Many had not seen the new princess before.  Something happens to a person when they “meet” a newborn, especially one in their family, for the first time.  Their face noticeably softens, tension drains from their shoulders.  They stop moving and often fall silent for several seconds. Scientists say women’s pupils dilate when they look at a baby’s face.

I think staring into the eyes of a newborn we are meeting for the first time is awe-inspiring on a deeply subconscious level.  Newborns are people in their purest possible state.  And it just might be the closest we can come to seeing the face of God.

I looked around the room at all of those people and for a few minutes saw babies everywhere. We all were, of course, just like my niece. And someone took care of us, however well or imperfectly. The people who brought us up did their best to love us, and they were babies once too, loved by imperfect people.

Some of us are blessed to be parents to babies now growing.  I am humbled every day by the realization that I make tons of mistakes, and that while I start out with the best of intentions, and I love my kids so much it hurts sometimes, there is One far greater who loves them infinitely more than me, and He proved it by dying for me on a cross. He alone, of all babies who grew up throughout time, did not have the stuff inside that makes me do things that leave me knowing I’m guilty, or ashamed. Thank goodness for Him, because He forgives me for messing up, and can show me how to try again, and how to love myself and my babies better the next time.

And there’s another thing I’ve learned from Him, but also from watching parents here whose babies have gone to heaven heartbreakingly young.  And that is, that a living parent NEVER stops loving their baby.  In fact, love never ends.  I am so thankful for the assurance I have in knowing that. Because I too am a baby.  And my Father is the Living God.

“I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
as long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.”

― Robert Munsch, Love You Forever

 

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My daughter (9) holds my niece’s hand.                                     She was 7 weeks old on Thanksgiving day.

 

Day 29 – Write it on Your Heart

I got out the hearts today. The wooden hearts. We started writing on these at Thanksgiving a couple years ago, when I hoped it would become an annual tradition. Every person in our home for the holiday writes on one side of the heart what he or she is thankful for this year, and on the other, their name and the date. Over time, we’ll have a record of gratitude that can be arranged in a vase, or tossed in a bowl to be sifted through and remembered.

One of my very best friends gave me this ‘hearts’ idea, and I liked it because it’s similar to writing thank-notes or making gratitude lists.  And I like to write thank-you notes. Seriously. Some people find them tedious but I don’t. In fact, I’ve found that the old adage “you can’t hold a positive and negative thought in your head at the same time” is true, because when I’m feeling a bit down or having an “off” day, the best remedy for me is to write a thank-you note to someone, for any good reason I can think of.  And if I can’t think of anyone, I can always build on my gratitude list to God, starting right where I am.

I read (and re-read) an amazing book this year called One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  In it, she takes counting blessings to a whole new level.  How?  First, she unravels the word eucharisteo, the original Greek word used in the Gospel of Luke to describe Jesus giving thanks at the Last Supper. Eucharisteo means thanksgiving, and within it is the Greek word charis, meaning grace, and its derivative chara, meaning joy.  So, there is a correlation between giving thanks to God for the gifts of His grace that we see all around us (even the tiniest things!), and experiencing joy. The miracle is that this works even when we think there is nothing to be thankful for.

This year has been a difficult one for my family.  We’ve lost several family members, and we miss them this Thanksgiving. But when we had to say goodbye to each of them, I began my daily prayers with litanies of thanks for all the things I could think of about each person, and it pulled my focus off my sadness, and onto them, where they are now, in God’s light.

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Day 28 – Blue Angels and Loops

“Do the Blue Angels have an airport?”

“Do the Blue Angels wear helmets?”

“Do the Blue Angels practice?”

Like top-of-the-hour-news reports, preschoolers can get on loops that change only slightly from day to day.  Mine has been ‘looping’ about the Blue Angels for a week or so now. We live in Annapolis, home of the U.S. Naval Academy.  The mega-impressive demo team flies here during Commissioning Week each May and it’s one of the highlights of our town’s year.  We also live near the Navy stadium, so we drive past a retired Blue Angel plane parked outside of it – at a vicious angle, no less – every single day. It’s no small wonder my son would have an interest. Thankfully, we are prepared. We’ve collected several small Blue Angel planes over the years. (See Exhibit A: attached photo).  The dents and missing paint belie hours of death-defying stunts. My husband and I can answer most questions. If not, there’s the internet.

Anyway, while my 4-year old son has been ‘looping’ lately on this fun topic, he’s also been circling back to a heavier one.  I’m astonished, humbled, and proud to say that completely on his own, he has remembered to pray for his friends’ father every single night since I first heard him during bedtime prayers on October 30. (See Day 18) That’s nearly a month ago.

When my son first heard about this man’s need, he and all his classmates only knew that “Ava and Charlotte’s dad was in the hospital.”* Now, he doesn’t know much more except that it was an accident and the twins’ father was hurt by some tree branches.  But we parents have been told details. Things children don’t need to hear. He is still in the hospital. He still needs prayers.

I think about this as I watch my son pray, and how his perseverance in prayer, is what faith is really about. It’s about not getting caught up in the details, but instead choosing to believe in a big, Big, BIG God. Yes, prayers might not get answered the way we’d like them to, but that’s not the point. The point is that in prayer, we acknowledge our need for God.

For a few days now, after bedtime prayer, my son has had a new ‘loop’ question. “How can God hear us?” I tell him again and again, “God knows, and sees and hears everything because he is the Master and Creator of everything. And he wants us to talk to Him, because he loves his children and wants them to tell Him what’s on their minds and hearts. To stay close to Him, we need to talk to Him.”

So we carry on with our questions – about things for which we can find answers, and the things we can’t.  And the peace that I feel when I spend time in prayer is all the confirmation I need that He is near, and hears me.

And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he hears us. 

— 1 John 5: 14-15

 * Not their real names.

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Day 27 – Beagle in My Lap

So, I’m approaching the end of my first 31 days of blogging, and I wasn’t sure what I’d write about today, but I really wanted to post something. I had a few ideas, but every time I started to write, I was sidetracked…by someone.

It was my youngest child, mostly.  He was hungry.  Then he needed a different show on TV.  Then he’d seen too much TV so we cleaned bathrooms together. Then we ate lunch and went to the store.  We came home and unpacked the groceries.  We picked his siblings up from school.  It was crazy warm for November today (71 degrees!) and the kids wanted to play outside.  I sat out there with them and tried to write.  The neighbor dropped by to say hello.

After the sun went down, I sent all the kids into the basement and plopped on the couch to try one more time. Our beagle climbed up next to me and laid her head on my chest. I kissed her and then she looked up at me with those big brown eyes of hers, and she crawled right on top of my iPad, into my lap. I let out a deep, deep sigh.

Yesterday, I wrote about the need to leave white space – margin – in the calendar. The main reason is because days like this happen to me all the time. I am blessed with a family who needs me, and while it is appropriate that I have time to myself to pursue my interests, the reality is that my life is not my own. It is a gift that has been entrusted to me, and I am just the steward, trying to do my best to take good care of the people, responsibilities, and things I’ve been blessed with.  I ask for His wisdom and guidance to prioritize my days, and to see what I need to see. From that point on, it’s better if I’m not trying to steer.

Today, each cry of “Mom!!!” was a divine appointment. And that’s what I needed to remember.

 

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Day 26 – When I Heard

It was at least 6 years ago, in the springtime, but I didn’t write the date down in a journal, so I don’t know exactly what year it was. We hadn’t redone our kitchen yet, so I remember the dark cabinets and sand-colored tumbled tile countertops that my husband and I had installed ourselves. I was standing in the corner, between our dishwasher and microwave, looking out the window at our neighbor’s trees.

That’s when I heard, or should I say felt, His voice tell me, “Be still. Know ‘I Am.'” It was the first time I’d heard Him speak directly to me, and I obeyed. Stock-still, mesmerized. My oldest son and daughter (my only children then) were playing just behind me in the family room, but they seemed much farther away, and I was unconcerned.  Everything was safe – there was no fear in me – my need to be in control had vanished. When I think of it now, I consider it among the most holy moments of my life.

At the time that this happened, I was unaccustomed to moments of silence and stillness. But I took this experience as another step in His unfolding invitation to go on a journey – one He knew I was ready for.

As I prepare for Thanksgiving this week and the start of Advent next Sunday, I’m trying to build margin – by that I mean, white space – into my holiday schedule. Without it, there will be no room for silence. The shopping, parties, gift-wrapping, and kids’ holiday events will dominate my days if I don’t prioritize right now.  Advent is a time of anticipation and waiting. For a child. For a King. Advent says, “‘I Am’ coming into the world.  Will you hear me?” 

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Day 25 – The Little Plant

My daughter’s little plant, in its clear plastic cup, was drooping when I came down for breakfast this morning. It sits in our kitchen bay window, where the night’s cold weather probably exacerbated its fragile state. Its’ tightly curled leaves clung from limp stems and for the first time, I noticed that its roots were pressed firmly to the sides of the cup, begging for H2O. ‘If it survives,’ I thought, ‘a repotting would be in order.’  I took it to the sink, sprinkled it carefully, and put it back in the morning sunlight.image

Often, things are more resilient than they appear. By the time I’d eaten, finished my tea, and read the paper, the plant was completely revived.  I had met its most basic need – water.

We all know there was no magic involved. The roots carried the water upward and nourished the plant’s cells.  So it is with me. I too, need water. Living water.  Too often I forget that it is always available to me – a gift freely given.  I rely only on insufficient ‘helps’ – my intellect, my creativity, my willpower, my handy electronic gadgets – to reach out in all directions, micromanage my time and my life, and cover as much ground as possible. The end is always the same. I hit my walls of exhaustion, resentment, and anger.

When I have done this to myself, and am therefore left weakened and easily battered by the elements of this world, the help I need is within.  The roots of my soul must reconnect with the living water. The Spirit is my refreshment, restoration, hope, and source of love and comfort.  And it gives me the assurance that I need never go thirsty again.

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God

and who it is that asks you for a drink,

you would have asked him

and he would have given you living water.”

– John 4:10

Day 23 – Song in My Head

Hello Friends,

First, to my Followers, please accept my apologies for the notification you received yesterday concerning a post called “Lucy and Aslan.” I had just started working on a draft of that post and inadvertently published it. I could delete the draft, but not the notification.  Thus, when you try to view the post, you get a message saying it is not available. Please bear with me, a very new blogger!  I will resend that post when I complete it.

Today, I’m hearing a song in my head, one that plays there more often than any other.  It doesn’t repeat ad nauseum; it never drives me crazy.  You know what I mean….You hear a song on the radio, a portion of it gets stuck in your mind, and it plays endlessly, torturously, until you want to rip your hair out?   No – it’s not like that at all.

This is a song I learned as a child, and now, it is sung from the heart as a praise offering. It’s “Doxology.”

Most Christians of Protestant traditions are familiar with it, and many Catholics are not.  But there’s nothing theologically controversial about it.  It was composed and first published by Anglican Bishop Thomas Ken in 1709, and the lines were actually taken from the closing stanzas of three of his other hymns. If you’d like to read more, here is a succinct article on the subject:

http://www.ctlibrary.com/ch/1991/issue31/3118.html

The song itself is a short, simple tune with simple words.  May you be blessed by hearing it today.

 

 

Day 22 – Who’s Calling?

The phone rings.  Thank goodness for Caller ID.  It tells me the caller is “Unavailable.” I roll my eyes. We get too many of these calls.

It used to be that no one had a choice; we all had no idea who was on the other end of the line when we picked up a ringing phone.  But today, technology is demystifying almost everything. Even the political calls I got earlier this month were each labeled, “Political Call.”

“So,” I want to ask this caller, “why should I listen to you – someone who won’t identify himself?”

I would only ask hypothetically, of course, because the truth is, I’m not going to pick up this call, or any other “Unavailable” or “Political Call” coming my way. I mean, why does anyone want to talk to someone who won’t reveal what he’s about and what he wants? That sounds kind of dangerous, doesn’t it?

About 10 years ago, this is how I thought of God, and frankly, I was ok with that.  I believed in a benevolent being and knew a few Bible stories, but the idea of pursuing a relationship with God sounded freakish and threatening.  And there was a lot I just couldn’t square – like how the God of the Old Testament had anything to do with the God of the New.  The heart of the issue was this – keeping Him at a distance seemed safer than asking questions that would give me more information about Him, because if I dared ask, I might find something that turned me upside down.

Like what, you ask?

– Like answers that cleared up confusion I had about His story

– Like a new way of understanding my own past

– Like people in Scripture I can relate to (who would have thought?)

– Like peace and wholeness I could not explain

But I eventually, tentatively entered into the conversation because He had been nudging me for a very long while – piquing my curiosity through my interests in literature, art, and places I’d visited around the world. He’d also made my path cross with certain people, sparked conversations that left me wondering, and whispered truths to me that my soul recognized instantly.

Now I understand. He just wanted me to come home.  He cares for me and protects me, and always has, even when I didn’t acknowledge Him. And now I’m so, so thankful that I finally accepted His call.

Day 21 – The Cost of Humor

It’s been 6 days since my last post…..more than I wanted, but I will eventually get to my first goal of 31 days!

In my mind, I keep returning to a little scuffle between my two older kids from last week that I think illustrates something that happens all too often, and leaves us with a question.

Things had gotten silly on the car ride home from school Thursday.  For one part of the ride, we were talking about pug dogs bred with beagles – “puggles.” And then later, after we stopped for my daughter’s half-hour piano lesson, the conversation was still animated but had taken an edgier turn.  I had placated everyone with snacks but all three kids were ready to be home, and there was nothing to do but to wait out the 8 long minutes until we got there.

The atmosphere was different, and it’s hard to tell how or why exactly.  These things just happen when kids are itching to release pent-up energy, and there was a lot of noise in the car. One kid was singing and the other two were taunting each another with verbal barbs.  Things sounded fun but I sensed it might be going too far and wasn’t sure so…I called out, “Quiet Game!”.

No one was to say a word or make a sound until we got home (real coughs and sneezes are allowed).  I looked in the rearview mirror when we pulled into the driveway and saw my daughter’s face turned toward the window, tears rolling down her cheeks. We all got out except her. When the other two kids went inside she told me, “He hurt my feelings.”  I knew he hadn’t meant to, but words have power. We have to remember that.

My oldest son, as usual, had gone up to his room to study.  I came in to talk.

“But, I was kidding!  She takes everything so personally!”

“Yes, and when you know that, you need to be sensitive.  You love your sister, right?”

“Yes.”

“Well.  Is it more important to be right here, or to have a good relationship with her?”

“Have a good relationship.”

Then, of course, because he’s 11 he went on to cite all the ways he wants me to stand up for him more when she bothers him, but that’s for another day….

What this situation made me remember is this question:

Is it more important to be right, or to be rightly related?

 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

– Matthew 5:9

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