Saturday, 29 December 2012

Reborn & Repurposed


The final Sunday of Advent turned out to be such a special one for me.   I chose to drive past our home parish to attend 5:30 mass at a chapel owned by another parish as part of its school complex.   It was once the building for a large Baptist congregation.   The Catholic parish bought the building when the Baptist church built a bigger building.   It has since been decorated, blessed, and dedicated for Catholic worship.

There's something about this chapel to which I strongly relate.   Maybe because it, too, has been reborn for a Catholic life and purpose.   It still holds remnants of its Protestant, or non-Catholic, past.   The Crucifix hangs in what seems a striking blue frame to some.   To the knowing eye, the crucifix hangs above what once served as the baptistry, the pool where baptisms as public signs of accepting Christ, not sacraments of regeneration, occurred.    The baptistry is now framed by the crucifix, a symbol and the Tabernacle that contains the reality to which the symbol points us.   The large stage that once held the preacher's sermon and choir's music as the center of worship now provides ample room for two lecterns, the choir, celebrants and attendants, statues, floral decorations, and a beautiful tabernacle.    The screen and projection system now help Catholics still learning the new order of the mass.   Kneelers have been added onto the pews, spaced so that it is easier to bring knees to floor rather than cushion.   It is all still useful, just re-purposed.   It didn't have to be thrown out and everything started anew.   It could be rededicated, blessed, and serve as the foundation for all that would come.

I grew up unchurched in the heart of the Bible Belt.   When Christmas and Easter came around, the name of this wonderful Jesus filled conversations, even school lessons, if not from faith, then from superstition, or maybe a little of both.   As Flannery O' Connor wrote, "while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted."   In the springtime came the revivals of the both the indoor and tent varieties.   Enthusiastic classmates would go around at recess asking, "Have you been saved?" of every child they encountered.    I went home in confusion, asking if I had "been saved."   Tell them, "You're a Christian," was Mama's reply, although we only attended Church of Christ services on the three Sundays each year when my Grandparents visited.   They didn't even visit every year, as they grew older and less able to travel.

At Christmas and Easter, I especially longed for Jesus.   I longed for that baptismal pool, first as a result of peer pressure, then later, as a sure need and desire.   I longed for the services, concerts, activities of the Christmas season and the rest of the year that brought fellowship to my Protestant friends.

Last Sunday, I sat, a baptized Catholic.   At home, with the Word and the Word Made Flesh in the Eucharist as the the focus of our worship.   I had the fellowship that comes form joining in the same mass with my fellow sinners, fellow brothers and sisters, around the globe.   Saved, still being saved, and hopefully, by the grace of God, I will be saved.   No need to throw out the good from my past.   No need to remove myself from the good people in my life who aren't Catholic.   Like the chapel--like me--it's all been reborn, blessed and repurposed.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Christmas Day


I can't access the camera roll on my iPhone.   I haven't bought a new digital camera because it's just been too easy to use my phone that seems to be with me at most times.    Fortunately, I e-mailed a few of our Christmas pictures in an effort to make room on the phone and I have those to share.

We continued our tradition of attending midnight mass.   Clare and Emmeline wore their beautiful dresses and Thomas wore footed pjs.   Really, there is such a small window of time when it is acceptable to wear pajamas to church, we really should take advantage of it!   The music was beautiful and I love making mass the first thing we do on Christmas Day.   As I sat there, I thought about Christians in times long ago, before the Victorians made Christmas the family holiday that the world celebrates today.   Imagine in medieval times when mass and a feast, not numerous presents, were the main focus of the day.   Surely midnight mass and the meal which traditionally followed must have been so exciting.   It was one of those moments where I felt Catholic, knowing I was joining in the ancient liturgy with Christians around the world.

There was great excitement over the first gift of the day: Jesus who was placed in the manger.   I have some cute pictures of that.   Maybe one day I'll have them.

Santa was especially good to the children this year.   They were a little worried about my reaction to one gift that was for them all.   They know my opinions of such things.   Santa must have seen them playing sports and dance games at the homes of good friends.   He must have thought it would be a nice thing to have when the weather makes for indoor play as the only option.   That Santa!



The girls were further surprised by the big man.   They keep walking around with their American Girl dolls saying, "I just can't believe he really brought me this!"





Clare got a Bitty Baby.

Emmeline got Kit.

Thomas was delighted with a toy bow and arrow.   He's been alternating between being Robin Hood and Hawkeye.   He also got an Imaginex fighter plane with a removable pilot!


In addition to their Santa gifts, there were Legos, games, Barbies, doll accessories, train cars, more planes, and a digger for Thomas to sit on and operate in a sand box.   

I always worry about going overboard for gifts.   I am always so touched and impressed by families who limit children to three gifts, just like the number Jesus received.   The problem is that our children have no living grandparents and they aren't going to receive gifts from other relatives.   So, it's up to us and we have fun buying them special gifts.   My friend Regina gave me good advice this year when she told me it's our family to do Christmas with as we see fit and we just need to be thankful for what we can do for our children.   Wise words indeed!



Wreaths: Advent Preparations

 I really enjoy making wreaths.   I was inspired this year by a trip to downtown Bryan after Thanksgiving with a friend.   We saw some beautiful southern-style decorations and I set about making much-needed new wreaths for our front door and above our mantle.

Front Door Wreath


First, can we just take a moment to appreciate the beauty of a red door at Christmas?!

This is a real wreath, but it didn't make it until Christmas.   We get some intense morning sun on the front of our house.   It makes the paint on the door slightly tacky to the touch and sometimes you can barely grasp the hot door handle.  So, a week before Christmas, I transferred all the pieces to an artificial wreath.   It will make next year a little easier!   I used artificial red roses that were expensive, so beginning in October, I went once a week to Michael's and picked up a stem with one of my 40% off coupons.   I cut the stems apart so I could spread the blooms and leaves around the wreath.   Then, I used golden pinecones (matte finish), along with a bow I made from some gorgeous ribbon (50% off at Hobby Lobby).   Not only is this southern in feel, but it also reminds me of my wedding bouquet, which was a combination of Christmas greens, a dozen and half red roses, and golden pinecones.    One day, my camera and laptop issues will be solved and I will have a proper picture of that wedding bouquet below.

Phone and laptop issues: picture this right-side up, please.   You get the idea of what the bouquet looked like and that was the point of this.
Mantle Wreath

I made the front door wreath before my bout with pneumonia.  A week after my diagnosis, my husband brought me all the materials and I was able to sit and construct the wreath for our mantle.   I was very happy with the results.   I used a large artificial wreath, an artificial magnolia and leaves and other elements that looked like real dried plants.   For the bow and streamers I used burlap ribbon and a green one with fleur-de-lis trimmed in gold.   It really needs two streamers coming down from the bow centers in both types of ribbon.   Maybe next year!












Thursday, 27 December 2012

The Twelve Days of Christmas and Beyond: CatholicMom.com


My latest post is up at CatholicMom.com:

By the time this is posted, my family and I will hopefully be settled in, snug and happy, in our home on Christmas Day.    While our family is still trying to find our way through our Advent observance, we have made some progress when it comes to celebrating a Catholic Christmas.

To read morehttp://catholicmom.com/2012/12/27/the-twelve-days-of-christmas-and-beyond/


Sunday, 23 December 2012

An Image of Christmas



Hand-carved table-top nativity scenes, life-sized nativities, Christmas trees aglow, the wonder of children's faces: they are all images brought to mind during this holy season and I love them all.   When I think about the image that stays with me, that links my childhood to adulthood and never fails to prompt contemplation, it is an unlikely scene that stands out from the rest.   

Growing up in Louisiana, I saw extreme poverty in rural areas.   On the farm next to ours, there lived an elderly man who was called, "Preacher."   He worked on the farm and his small home was just beyond our fence.   People passing by would probably refer to his home as a shack and as technical definitions go, they would not be incorrect.   There was one main room which had at its center a free-standing wood stove.   There was no air conditioning in the summertime and Preacher spent most of his spare time on his tiny front porch rather than indoors.


Such shacks were a fixture in the landscape that passed by my window on our family's many drives.   Sometimes we were driving with a proper destination in mind, such as a cattle sale, show, or field day at a farm.   Other times, we were just driving for recreation.   For my father's recreation.   I would assume my position in the backseat, gazing out the window, taking in the scenery that inspired my daydreams or barely noticing the familiar sites as I got lost in the world of my imaginings.  

I knew these humble dwellings in the light of day.   Old ringer washers and retired upholstered furniture  might occupy space on their front porches.   Children's bikes and toys often littered the yard beyond flower beds that neatly lined either side of wooden steps that led up to the front door.   In the winter, the tell-tale smoke puffing from a stovepipe gave evidence of the stove that heated the home and probably provided a means of cooking.   Different thoughts went through my mind.   I was more thankful for my lovely, comfortable home.   I felt a bit guilty because I had a lovely, comfortable home.   I worried about fires for the families caused by rudimentary electrical wiring or the flames of the stove.   I wondered how the children inside felt.   I wondered if the children on their school bus also lived in similar housing or if they were in better circumstances.   Did they face ridicule as the bus slowed to a stop in front of their homes?   No matter how happy the reason for the drive, the sight of those homes along a rural Louisiana highway made for somber moments.

But then there were the night drives on those familiar highways.   Now, those mere shacks shone with a cheery and welcoming light in their windows.   Against the black night, with no city lights or even street lamps, the glow from those windows transformed those shacks into homes.   And at Christmas time, how the transformation was complete!   Outlined with simple large, multi-colored bulbs, those shacks, so sobering to passer-bys during the harsh sun-lit hours, became quaint little cottages.   They resembled gingerbread houses and I can honestly say, I have yet to see the grandest decorated home that can rival those humble homes.

Even my imagination changed in the light of those night-time houses.   Honestly, I moved from pity to sometimes wistfulness.   I would think about how different things could look at night.    In the dark, in the quiet, in the stillness.  The tell-tale marks of poverty disappeared and light from within and without now defined those homes.    I would think about the magic of Christmas.   Even those in humble circumstances could participate in the celebration.   I almost felt as if their simple decorations were much more satisfying than the magazine-spread decor that awaited us at home.

The dark.   Where poverty remains to so many Americans.   So many people live such sheltered lives that they can't imagine the poverty of places like the inner city or the rural south, places where either time marches across or time was left behind.    Where Mary awaited the birth of her son in a humble stable, its blackness broken only by meager lamplight.   Where hurts and pain lie in the recesses of our hearts and minds.   Where the disciples slept whilst Jesus prayed with his whole being.   Where Peter thrice forsake his Lord by the servant's fire.   Where Jerusalem descended as Christ drew His last breath on the cross.

In the quiet.   Where we contemplate, looking for hope or where we give in to worry.   Where we find peace from a noisy world.   Where things are more simple and truth stands out from the distractions.

In the stillness.   Where we listen to the breaths of our sleeping children and gaze upon their resemblance to the angels.   Where we can breathe.   Where the quiet leads.    Where we hear God speak to our hearts.

In humility.

On our journey of faith, the Church gives us seasons of darkness, stillness, and quiet, so different from Ordinary time and the celebrations of Christmas and Easter.   We wait in quiet and darkness through Advent for the birth of our Savior.   In the history of God's chosen people who anticipated the Messiah.   In the stable.   In the night sky where there appeared a special star.    We wait in quiet and the darkness throughout Lent for our Savior's crucifixion and resurrection.   In the parable where we hope to count ourselves among the wise virgins with lamps lit.   In the garden with the disciples.  In the courtyard with Peter.    In the tomb.

But like Christ Himself, the Church never leaves us in the darkness.   This Christmas, as those before, the Church walks into the dark of midnight and joyfully shines her light of faith into the world, proclaiming that Christ is born!   No matter how broken, unsightly, or poor--in body, in spirit, in mind, in circumstances--we are welcomed to take our place amongst the festivities.    When we enter into the quiet and stillness, grace transforms us and the light of faith illumines our ordinary outlooks and concerns.   Then, piling mystery upon mystery, we can be humble lights to each other as we journey in faith.




Dear Lord, thank you for breaking the  darkness of Advent with your light.   Thank you for grace and the gift of faith to light my path amongst the ordinary and the extraordinary.   Thank you for those many people you've used in my life to light the way closer to you.   Amen.



A Blessed Advent



As I wrote earlier, my Advent was not what I planned.   I spent the first three weeks only leaving the house to drop the girls off at school and then to pick them up in the afternoon.   I did my Christmas shopping only a few days before Christmas.   I was able to really rest and recover from pneumonia and the other health issues I've dealt with this year.

We couldn't find the Advent wreath, so the arrangement in the picture above was our family's Advent centerpiece.   Mary, pregnant with Hope incarnate and Joseph guiding them on their way to Bethlehem.    A single candle to inspire and remind us of the anticipation of Christ.   And beautiful flowers: a get-well gift from a friend.

It was a season of blessing: rest and quiet, though forced, that I needed.   Less busy-ness and lessons in what is important and necessary.   I didn't get to make homemade treats for teachers because I was too tired, but gift cards and other store-bought gestures, along with hand-written  notes of gratitude worked just fine.   One pie for our Christmas dinner was great; no one suffered.    Declining invitations to get-togethers was hard, but it turns out I didn't miss out on friendship.

The most amazing part of it all was the kindness and generosity of friends.   People volunteered to baby-sit although that wasn't an option with runny noses and our oldest one having the flu the week before Christmas.   We had delicious meals delivered to our door so many nights and I didn't have to worry about cooking dinner.   That was so helpful for me and the whole family.   I can never adequately express what it meant to me.

It wasn't the Advent I planned, but it was the one I needed.


Saturday, 22 December 2012

Pre-Christmas School Fun


 The last day of school before the Christmas break was Pajamas Day.   Clare was a *little* excited about that!   Sweet Emmeline had the flu and missed the whole week of school.   Her teacher sent classroom treats from the party, along with get-well cards from her classmates.   She was pleasantly surprised!



One thing I missed out on during my homeschooling years was homemade arts and crafts that didn't depend upon me.  Clare brought home this sweet ornament: snowmen made from her handprint with a touching poem attached.   Love.


Still life from art center: apples in a bowl.






















Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Waiting

This is not the Advent I planned.   Not that I'd planned an elaborate one, mind you, but I did expect to begin the season with evening mass (it's just so lovely during Advent to leave mass in the dark) and then each night, hang one ornament on our Jesse tree, light the candle on the Advent wreath, and pray the accompanying prayers and scriptures.

The season began Sunday, in Urgent Care, with a two-hour wait.   The day before Thanksgiving, my youngest daughter and I went to Urgent Care, where we were diagnosed with sinus infections.   We were both put on a round of Amoxicillin.   She gradually got better. But I really didn't recover.   The sinus pressure, headaches, and post-nasal drip continued.   Last week, I started running fever and getting chills.   Then came the cough, which although it never reminded me for the fifth time to take out the trash or put my shoes away, still qualified as being of the nagging variety.  So, I did what I was supposed to do and made a follow-up visit Friday to a most efficient ENT doc.   In and out in three minutes and he didn't even need to listen to my lungs to just prescribe a stronger antibiotic and send me on my way!

Saturday was my oldest daughter's 9th birthday.   She chose to invite a special friend out for a painting session at a local ceramics shop and lunch.   They had a great time and other than a sinus headache, I managed fine, although I was wiped out that evening.  My friend, Amber, came into town for the weekend and she helped me; she even made soup for us.

Sunday morning, I sat in a chair outside and made a Christmas wreath--of sorts--for Amber.   We decided to go get Sonic drinks (my sincerest sadness for anyone reading this who is unfamiliar with this fast-food treat) and on the drive home, something spilled from a long-forgotten cup.   It was one of those spills that required immediate action, so as soon as we pulled into the driveway, I set about vacuuming, spraying, and scrubbing.   Sweat was pouring down and I was really weak when my cleaning frenzy ceased.   Then, the cough returned, but deeper, with no satisfaction, and I started wheezing while having trouble catching my breath.  I didn't want to get caught having to visit the ER at midnight,so I headed to Urgent Care.   As much as I loved my rural childhood, I never want to live far from quality 24/7 medical care.   I am so thankful we even have multiple choices in our twin cities.

So to Urgent Care where a wonderful nurse and doctor listened to my whole story--and my lungs--before ordering a chest x-ray.   A little more waiting.   The technician had to turn the system on and off twice before it would properly load.   A short wait for results from Radiology to confirm a diagnosis of pneumonia.   It wasn't a short enough wait for the doctor, I guess.   I heard her on the phone asking for the results NOW.   I really do love her.   I also overheard a nurse telling her a doctor wouldn't come in on a case.   The doctor said, "Why not.  He gets paid for his time, same as I do.".  Then she proceeded to get on the phone and explain things in the same way to that doctor!   Yeah, I love her.

So, now it's two days later and I'm waiting for the medicines to work.   I'm still weak, coughing, and wheezing, but I'm more alert than yesterday.   Like, alert enough to sit up in bed, typing this post.    And it turns out I'm probably having a more fruitful Advent than anything I could have planned.   In this season of waiting, I'm waiting.   I'm waiting on my sweet three-year-old son to pop into my room and give me another kiss on the forehead.   I'm waiting to see my daughters who won't be home until late this evening because my husband will leave work early to pick them up for me and then take them back the school where he works while he finishes his day's work.   I'm waiting on meals from dear friends who asked to help.   I'm accepting the offer after initial hesitation, because I had to face it that I needed help, if only for the rest of the family who need a recovered mama.   I'm not consumed with December business because I just can't.

Advent isn't about mere waiting, though.   It' about expectant waiting; it's about anticipation.   Even as I sit, pausing to cough with what is sometimes the effort of my whole frame, with laundry needing attention in my line of vision, and the worrying silences from the other parts of the house where my son necessarily occupies himself, the air around me is pregnant with hope.   I have been tired and ill--off-and on--with migraines and ulcerative colitis flares for a year now.   With this pneumonia, I have been forced to rest.  I just admitted that I couldn't host the book club Christmas party and accepted a friend's offer to do so.   There was a time when I came frightfully close to living for things like that.   I'm no longer that person who would have risked a relapse to decorate for and host a Christmas party.   I once pushed myself for a party days before I was admitted to hospital for emergency back surgery.  

I admitted that I need help.  Hope isn't just about the future.   It's also about recognizing, in today, the changes God has wrought in our lives by how far we've progressed.   That recognition reassures us that further progress is possible.   My Advent holds all that the accessories of the season represent to us.   The circle of God, like the circular wreath of evergreen.   The circle of His ever-watchful arms around us and the love He shows that knows no end.   The dim, but ever-brightening, light of grace, gradually shedding light on the truths of His faithful precence in our lives.   And the whole story of the past--of God's kept-promise throughout salvation history--large-scale on our Jesse Trees and played out small-scale as we reflect on our own journeys of faith.

Oh, Radiant Dawn, come to me.   For now, for this rare moment, I am truly waiting.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

9 Years Old!


First school picture!

 Sweet Emmeline is nine years old!

This year, Emmeline has started public school for the first year.   She is adjusting well and loves third grade.   She especially loves her teachers!    She reads as often as she gets the chance.   She also likes watching Doctor Who.   She still loves to draw and create things.   For her birthday, she got a Barbie doll and clothes, a carousel of crayons, and a crystal-growing kit.

She chose to invite a friend out to lunch and to U-Paint-It, a local ceramics shop in town.   They had so much fun creating their little trinket boxes.   Clare chose to paint a ladybug bank.   Amber came into town for her birthday.   It was a special day for a special girl.

I am so thankful God gifted us with such a special girl!



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