God’s Faithfulness — Part II

In Part I I told you about my prayers for a friend and my last minute decision to attend the Immaculate Heart of Mary Homeschool Conference on a Friday afternoon in July.  After hearing Ginny speak, I was moved to tears and certain that we needed to bring the kids back home for school.  I purchased a few books on my list and then headed to On the Border to enjoy a meal and fellowship with 15 or so other mothers.  I was one of the first to arrive and took a seat across from some familiar faces.  We jumped into conversation and began catching up to date with the events of one another’s lives.  Then, two women whom I did not know or recognize joined us at the table.  I introduced myself and some of the other ladies sitting nearby.  We began to discuss Ginny’s talk and I shared the story of my father’s healing at the Shrine.  Clair, who had just moved from Georgia to Texas two weeks earlier, commented on having visited the Shrine herself about ten years ago.  As it turns out, her family immigrated to Green Bay like mine had in the late 1800’s.  We got to chatting and decided that we needed to get together soon to continue getting to know one another.  As the Nine-O-Clock hour rolled around, I excused myself to head home and get to bed.  I was filled with joy at all the afternoon and evening had brought.  For the first time in a long time, I had peace about bringing my kids home to learn again.

Over the weekend, I saw a post about tickets for sale for the Edel Gathering in Austin.  It was just a few weeks away, but some of the ladies could no longer make it and the tickets were being sold via Facebook.  I snatched one up quickly and looked forward the Edel weekend.  It was on a whim that I made the purchase, so I reached out to see if there was anyone with whom I could share a room and/or a ride.  Clair was also going and offered to give me a ride.  Jenny had a friend, Elizabeth, with a room and agreed to hook us up for the weekend.  As it turns out Elizabeth had attended Texas Tech with my nephew and his wife!  Also, my daughter Allison babysits for them on occasion.  Everything seemed to be falling into place quite nicely.

The following Tuesday I loaded up the kids and headed East to Forney, Texas to visit Clair.  The plan was to help her organize her school room, but we ended up visiting the entire day.  She said that she had spoken to her grandparents and that she was a descendant of the Allen’s as well, but her grandfather told her that ‘Allen’ was a popular sur name and that it was unlikely we were related.  I agreed and added that our ancestors were Allen, but the name had been changed from Hallaux when they immigrated from Belgium.  We continued to visit and something in our conversation spurred me to want to show her something I had seen on the internet.  We headed upstairs and I waited while she booted up the computer.  It was then that she noticed the email from her grandmother and opened it.  What was the original sur name I had told her? What was the name of my great, great grandfather who came from Belgium?  And in that instant we knew that we were related.  There on the screen was a digital copy of the immigration document of Josef Hallaux from Belgium to Green Bay!  Clair’s mother and I would be fourth cousins, so that made us fourth cousins once removed–my children were her fifth cousins!  God had sent me a friend and just to make sure I knew it was from Him, God had put his fingerprints all over the experience.

You see, when I first prayed for a friend over 17 years ago–before the HENS existed–God sent me my friend Karen.  Patrick and I had known Karen from years before.  She had attended classes with my sister in college, her mother and Patrick’s mother were friends, our fathers knew each other through church and business relationships.  When we met again it was in our children’s preschool class on “Meet the Teacher” night.  But, what we came to discover after several years of friendship–those same children now in junior high–was that Patrick and Karen were fourth cousins.  I was teaching our children Texas History and their first assignment was to research how their families ended up in Texas.  It was in researching for this project that we discovered that Patrick and Karen share the same great, great grandfather; but have different great, great grandmothers.  Yes, fourth cousins.  No, I’m not joking.  Only God can do these things.  He sees the big picture and He is always faithful to those who place their trust in Him.

 

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God’s Faithfulness–Part I

shrine olghIt was mid-July and I was feeling especially fearful about the prospect of homeschooling again in the fall.  My husband and I had agreed that we would divide our duties differently.  Since we were working together in our home-based business, we would work together to get the household chores and homeschooling tasks accomplished as well.  Still, my heart raced and my stomach flip-flopped at the thought of it.  So, I prayed.  I prayed for wisdom, for God’s will and for a friend.  For the first time in many years, I prayed for a friend.  It seemed silly, really since God has blessed me with so many faithful friends I am rich beyond belief (Sirach 6:14-16)!  But, my original tribe, The Hens, are in a very different phase of their lives—almost empty nesters—while I am still years away from an empty nest.   I prayed for a friend that could help me get through the loneliness and redundancy that one finds as a homeschooling mother: long days without adult interaction, math facts, grading, laundry, meals, etc.

The week had been a rough one.  Sick kids and stresses in our family life and marriage were taking its toll on my mental well-being.  Friday rolled around and our weekend plans had to be cancelled.  Then, I remembered the Catholic Homeschooling Conference was being held that very day.  Yes!  Yes, I could still make it and even sneak in the social dinner gathering that Jenny had organized.  I remembered seeing her post on Facebook and quickly replied that I would attend after all.  It was only out of desperation for socialization that I was attending this conference.  I still was not convinced that homeschooling was the right fit.

I arrived at the conference around 2 o’clock.  The first observation I made was how many women I knew.  Their faces made my heart fill with joy. “God has blessed me,” I thought to myself.  I must have seen, visited and hugged at least twenty women in that first hour!  As I was catching up with one mother, Ginny Seufert walked by.  She has spoken at almost every homeschool conference I’ve attended for the past 16 years.  She caught my eye because she looked particularly youthful and beautiful this day.  I told her just as much.  She was just on her way in to give a talk.  My friend asked me if I wanted to hear Ginny speak.  I wasn’t going to attend the talks.  I still was not sure that I was going to homeschool.  I was almost certain that I had heard it all before.  This would be my 18th year of homeschooling IF we were to homeschool, that is.  Still, I agreed to go in and listen.  Ginny is always good for straight talk and hearty laughter.

I was not prepared for her talk this time around.  Her topic was something to the effect of “Why You Should Persevere in Homeschooling No Matter What.”  She pointed out all of the confusion in the world, the opposition to natural law and its infiltration into the educational system of even the youngest students.  She then went on to discuss the Peshtigo Fire in 1871 in Northern Wisconsin and the miracle at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help.  Fascinating topics on their own accord, but especially relevant to me.  You see, I was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin almost 100 years after that horrific fire.  My ancestors were Belgium immigrants living in the area at the time of the Fire. Adele Brise is a relative by marriage in my family tree and I had heard the stories of the fire and the miracles for many years.  But, even more relevant because my own father was healed through the intercession of Mary at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help on August 15, 1937.  If not for that miraculous healing I would not be here today.  My second observation for the day was that my life has a particular and unique purpose.  Like Adele Brise, I heard the words in my head, “Teach the children the way to salvation…I will help you.”  Moved to tears, I knew I would and I could return to homeschooling.  Mary would help me as well.  It was time for us to formally consecrate ourselves and our children to her.  Mary always leads us to her Son, Jesus Christ; intercedes in begging grace for us; and protects us and guards us as she protected and guarded her own Son, Our Lord.

5 Ways to Survive Life Crisis: from my perspective

 Put Your Oxygen Mask on First  

I know it is said often, but it really holds true.  You cannot help anyone else if you are down and out.  It is critical to take care of yourself and the opposite of selfishness.  It has taken me a loooooong time to learn this.  During this last time of crisis I did a much better job.  I rested and only did what I was able to do and no more than that.   The laundry piled up, the toys became scattered, the floors got icky, the weeds got taller and multiplied by ten and the kids became needier for lack of attention.  Only the critical things made it on the “to do” list: read extra praise and snuggles for the kids.  The rest will wait.

Ask For Help

When I woke up unable to move except for a few inches, I knew I needed someone to take care of me.  My husband was not the person to ask.  He had six kids to feed and love on and a mile-long list of his own critical tasks.  Who is the next capable person?  Can I call a friend?  Well, my 11-year-old daughter is very attentive and loves getting texts.  So, I texted and asked her if she would like to be my nurse.  One minute later she was at my side and did an excellent job caring for me.  Also, talk with a trusted friend and let him/her know what you are going through.  For me, just sharing my struggle brought me great relief.  It somehow made it more manageable.  A friend’s empathy and encouragement can mean the world during a crisis.

I was able to make lists and do a little planning the next day, so I planned meals and helped make the grocery list.  Then, I asked my 18-year-old to do the shopping.  During the non-crisis times I had been teaching my kids to cook and this payed off big time in the times of  crisis.  The kids also began tackling the laundry a little at a time.  Mornings are my worst as far as functionality, so I asked for help in getting the kids to VBS.  Everyone will have unique circumstances, so think about the resources available to you, prioritize your needs in order of most critical and then ask someone for help.  It is much easier for people to help if they know you have a specific need.  And if you are the one being asked, the opposite is true: just offer to do whatever you are able.  When someone is in the midst of a crisis it is often difficult to make a decision of what you need.

Look for the Positive

Having a crisis is the very definition of things going wrong.  The key here is to recognize that EVERYTHING is not going wrong.  Something has to be right or you would not be here.  For me it was all the little things: my husband poking his head in to ask if I needed anything, the kids giving me snuggles, the flowers blooming amidst the weeds, the sun shining, my comfortable bed, my caring friends… Well, you get the idea.  Make a mental note of every little thing that brings you joy and thank God for it.  He is there in the suffering with you and is patiently waiting to pour out the grace and peace for just the asking.

Minimize the Negative

It is good and healthy to acknowledge all that is going wrong.  It sucks to be sick.  It feels crappy and you can’t do anything about it.  I have had 7 straight weeks of not feeling well beginning with a case of laryngitis and continuing through this last week of reacting to gluten.  It is easy to get discouraged.  And it seems to pile up.  Mom is down, Dad’s stress goes up, the kids’ stress goes up, the house starts to fall apart, the car breaks down, kids get sick, and the list can go on and on.  Name those crappy things and cry it out if you need to.  “God has big shoulders,” Fr. Jim used to tell us.  Pray and cry out to Him and name all those things that are burdensome.  Then ask God what you should do about it.  If you can take action without causing yourself more harm, then do it.  Otherwise, let it go.  The floors, the laundry, the weeds will all be there another day and it really won’t take long to get it back on track.  Don’t get bogged down by the negative. I know, easier said than done.  But, I can assure you that you will get better with practice.  God has been giving me lots of practice.

Give Others the Benefit of the Doubt

Feeling irritable when you are stressed is a normal response.  But, try not to alienate those closest to you.  In my personal experience, I would get upset when my husband seemingly avoided me, or was short with me when I was at my weakest.  I would take his absence as a form of abandonment.  In reality, he was doing double time taking care of work, house, kids, shopping and trying to deal with his own emotions and stress of seeing me so sick.  We can easily focus on our own pain and suffering and forget how strongly it affects others.  My kids are also affected.  It is frightening to see Mom so sick and weak.  Mom is supposed to take care of them, not the other way around.  My kids take on extra chores as well.  After a few days, it can wear everyone down.  Try to remember to say “thank you” for the smallest acts of kindness.  Praise the good that others are doing.  Don’t let guilt over what you cannot control spill over into bitterness and irritability towards others.  Another burden I often add to my baggage is to take on the added stress expressed by others.  If my husband gets short with the kids, or the kids start bickering with one another, I have to take great effort to remember that is not my fault.  I cannot control others and I cannot control my health.  So, I just *try* to speak gently and offer praise and encouragement where I can.  Everyone is just doing the best they can with what they have.  None of us are perfect.

I do hope this helps you when you are in time of crisis.  Unfortunately no one is able to avoid life crisis.  Yours will be unique to you, so my story and advice may not apply.  I pray for you all that God give you peace and healing, grace and joy as you walk your journey in sickness and in health.  And I thank you for your prayers and encouragement as well.

7 Steps to a Clean Home with the Help of Joyful Children (One Method of Teaching Responsibility While Growing Closer as a Family)

I truly feel this entire concept was inspired by the Holy Spirit, or maybe even Mother Mary whispering wisdom into my ear.  Whatever the case, one moment I was standing in the kitchen calling my children to attention (with frustration and despair bogging down my mind) and the next moment, four of my children (ages 10, 8, 7 and 6) were happily and busily cleaning the entire house without one grumble or complaint!  Follow these simple steps to get similar results in your home.

Step 1:  Breathe.  Remember that they are children and children will make messes, explore and be creative.  Remember that they are capable of amazing things and allow them the room to show you their strengths.  Don’t expect perfection.

Step 2:  Divide the main areas of your house into Zones.  Don’t include bathrooms, bedrooms, or other “private” areas in your Zones.  Try to create one Zone per person.

Step 3:  Let the kids pick their cleaning Zone.  So far, I have had not arguments over who gets which Zone.  If a disagreement should happen then come up with a fair way of choosing: have them draw straws, roll dice, go from youngest to oldest, etc.

Step 4:  Explain the scoring system to the kids and put it up on a chart or white board as you explain.  Stay with me here as this is where it can get complicated.  Maybe say something along these lines:

     Your Zone will be scored on the following points: cleanliness (how well you do in picking up toys, trash and other misplaced items and putting them in their proper place); speed (how quickly you get the job done WELL; not just hurry up, but diligently work on your task to do the job well and completely–think perseverance and diligence); and attitude (Are you joyful or grumpy?).  These will be scored on a scale from 0-5, with 5 being the best possible score.  These scores will be added together to get your subtotal.  Everyone with me? [demonstrate on the white board].

Then say, “Now, you are all different ages and have different abilities.  To account for this, I will assign a Degree of Difficulty to your Zone based on your age and ability AND the extent to which you clean the room.”  A Degree of Difficulty of “1” is the basic pickup of the floor and flat surfaces; but a “5” would be if you cleaned under the sofa, organized the book shelf, vacuumed the floor, mopped the tile, etc.  The more you do, the higher the Degree of Difficulty becomes.  The reason why this is important is because your subtotal will be MULTIPLIED by your Degree of Difficulty to get your final score. [Demonstrate on the board how 15  x 1 is 15, but 15 x 5 is 75]  Let them give you different scores to see how it affects the total. [Bonus math lesson here ;-)]

zones

Step 5.  When the children complete their zone to their satisfaction, have them come to you and let you know that they are ready for scoring.  Then, with your full attention go into the room and inspect their job.  Be sure to give lots of positive feedback on the work they did well.  Don’t be afraid to make suggestions of where it could be improved, or hints about items that were overlooked.  Be generous, but honest with your score.  If my kids worked hard and gave it their all, I rarely score less than a 5.  In the above example, Zone 4 got a “4” in cleanliness because there was still quite a bit of trash on the floor and items on flat surfaces.  The Degree of Difficulty is the clincher here.  How much were they willing to put into their efforts?  My Zone 1 in the above example was the kitchen.  The 12 year old chose it with vigor and she delved into organizing cabinets and drawers, in addition to counters, floors and hand washing that her brother overlooked that morning.  That kind of effort deserved a perfect score for sure!  The Degree of Difficulty of 3 in the above example was the oldest child who chose to do the minimum effort.  He still had a great attitude and the room was picked up and vacuumed, so I explained that he could have earned a higher Degree of Difficulty by going under the furniture and straightening the bookshelves.  He did a great job, but it wasn’t going to be enough to win the contest.

Step 6.  Reward the top score with a prize.  I give 1st place 5 cents per point, 2nd place 1 cent per point and everyone else a quarter.  My children are still young at ages 6 to 13, so the prize is minimal.  If you have older children, then you might consider a higher payout–how much is a clean house worth after all?   The prize doesn’t have to be elaborate, but just a well-deserved reward for their effort.  At the end of this contest, your entire house will be picked up, vacuumed, spot mopped, and better organized than when you started.  Allow the reward to lift EVERYONE up, but still make the winner feel special for his/her effort.  Bask in their incredible efforts and boast on how enjoyable the home is when it is tidy and everyone works together well.  Sometimes we play a game, go swimming, or the kids watch a movie following the clean up—an activity to enjoy a job well done.

Step 7.  Repeat as needed to maintain the orderliness of the home, but not more frequently than once per week.  We decided to do “Zones” on Friday afternoons so we can enjoy a movie night and focus on family projects or outings on Saturdays.  This week my kids decided to do it on Thursday because the house had become quite messy and even they wanted the order back!  Hey, I’ll take it any day.

I would love to hear your feedback on how this works in your home, what changes you made, and what rewards were given.  I pray that you have as much success with it as I have had.  Truth be told the greatest reward for me has been the feeling of connection, that we really work well as a team, the Domestic Church’s version of the Body of Christ in action.

Edit:  I am usually working on my paying job while they are cleaning.  Sometimes, I clean an area as well, but don’t get scored in the contest.  Yesterday, they actually did all of the cleaning while I was gone for an appointment.  It was especially rewarding to come home to a clean house and to know the kids had matured to this level of responsibility without my direct oversight!  My goal here is not the clean house.  That is just a side benefit.  My goal is to grow relationships with my children as they learn to be responsible and independent members of our family and community.

To School or Not to School

That is the question. I’m still waiting for God’s answer, but I am finding more peace with the unknown as each day passes. So much has changed since last August. I thought that with my regained health that homeschooling would be a shoe in, but I’m finding that it is not the case.

When I lost my regular helpers in January, I urged my husband to look at our traditional school options. We applied to a Charter school that has been the new option for several of our Catholic homeschooling friends over the past year or so. Our youngest made it in, but the rest are still on the waiting list.

For most of the Spring, I thought that I would still homeschool in the Fall. Surely, God was still calling us to it. That Sunday was the Gospel reading where the risen Christ asks Peter, “Peter, do you love me?” three times. And three times Peter responds, “Yes, Lord.” It was so moving for me that tears were streaming down my face as the Gospel was read. When Father read the words of Christ’s reply, “Then feed my sheep.” I thought, “That’s it. You want me to homeschool.” Then Fr. Luke gave the homily and it shook me to the core.

Father said that when we aren’t sure what we should do, then we should do nothing. He used the analogy of weddings at church. During the rehearsal he advises the wedding party to look to him, the priest, for direction during the ceremony. He counsels them that if they are uncertain of what they should be doing, to do nothing and wait for his direction. He said that it was his job to make sure that everyone knew what to do and when and that it was their job to wait and follow the direction. “Okay,” I thought, “I will wait for direction before I homeschool…” and then father continued speaking. He said, the human response to confusion is one of three things: 1. Do nothing 2. Do what is comfortable or 3… well, I can’t remember exactly; but the point he was making is that we often choose what is comfortable because it is familiar and we know how to do it, even though it may not be what God wants us to do. God asked Peter to walk on the water with Him, to step out of the boat and into the storm. It was this moment where I finally let go of the comfortable, known option of homeschooling as the only option and opened my heart and mind to the possibility of stepping out into the storm, the unknown. And because I am still uncertain of what we should do, I’m doing nothing. Oh, I have lesson plans written should we continue to homeschool; but I also filled out the paperwork for Ben to start in August at the Charter school. Now, I just stay here until the High Priest gives me my directions. I do still worry from time to time, but I realize quickly that I don’t have to do anything right now. It is His job to give the directions and my job to follow them. I’ll be sure to give y’all an update when I find out where we are going.

Have Mercy on Me, O Lord! A Sinner

First, my apologies if anyone has been waiting for a new blog post. My health improved, so I took the kids on a trip for ten days to give my husband a quiet and less stressful home (and time to finish taxes). Well, we came back with strep and exposure to chicken pox. So, two weeks of kids taking turns with strep and ear infections was closely followed by two weeks of all seven kids with severe chicken pox! The good Lord answered my prayers that they all got them at once, but it was a rough two weeks for the lot of us. My kids were amazingly brave troopers through it all and I wonder just how many souls were saved through their heroic suffering without complaint. This week was less eventful, but still involved bed rest for Allison and I as we both recovered from chest colds. Will this school year ever end? In God’s time is the only answer I have for that.

plague2015

Today, I wanted to share some thoughts on mercy.  Mercy is the word that keeps coming to my mind. Pope Francis declared this to be the Holy Year of Mercy beginning December 8, 2015 and ending on the feast of Christ the King in 2016.  Maybe the news of this declaration has something to do with mercy being my latest buzzword.  My initial reaction was that a “Holy Year of Mercy” seemed a wimpy declaration. I thought, what does that mean? Images of Jon Stamos in Full House came to mind. “Have mercy,” he exclaimed each episode in reaction to a beautiful woman or car. But, then I started to really think about what mercy is, the Divine Mercy, the most merciful Lord and savior. And as I looked around my world, I found a desparate lack of mercy. I smiled to myself as I was reminded once again how foolish I am and how great and wise is the Holy Spirit to inspire a Year of Mercy. We can certainly use it!

Don’t believe me? Well, just turn on the news; listen to a talk show; or read comments on any on-line forum, article or social media. There’s a deplorable lack of mercy. Pay attention to your inner voice as you react to any news you hear. Is it like mine with an automatic critical or negative thought? Are you quick to judge, like me? The fact is that we never have all the facts. So, when reacting to the “big story” in the news we are participating in sinful gossip. Commenting on-line is a dangerous tight-rope walk not easily balanced with facts and charitable discussion, but easily igniting anger and bitterness. It makes my heart so heavy. First, to know I am guilty of such criticism and lack of charity—even if I just think it for a brief moment. But, then to see it play out in our world brings a heaviness and sorrow that I can not explain in words. How quickly lives are destroyed and the pain and suffering ripple out!

My duty is to tend to my own soul and those souls of the children still under my care. It is a full-time job and not a fun or glamorous one to be sure. My soul is filthy and dusty and grimy. So, it is much more appealing to me to work on other people’s souls, until I see that it really doesn’t get me (or them) any closer to God. But, extending love and mercy? That draws us to unity with God and one another. Mercy is not the condoning of a sinful act, but the openness to growth and change when one repents of that action. It is the taking in account of our fallen human nature and loving one another despite it. In Fr. Lang’s Dictionary of the Liturgy, he describes God’s mercy as the “willingness of God to draw near to human beings in a loving and saving encounter. . . Those who come to know God and experience Him in this way can live only in a state of being continually converted to Him.” So, basically, if we try to work on our own souls to live out God’s will; then we have no need to worry about the criticism of others and can disregard it as such.  (This is not to say that it will be painless or free of suffering.  One only needs to look to Jesus on the cross to understand that even this perfect and sinless human was a victim of mob mentality).  In living out the Will of God we cannot help but recognize our own faults and weaknesses and understand that we are NOTHING without God. Then, we can more easily understand the weakness and failures of others and extend mercy towards them; mainly in the form of prayer and fasting.  Likewise, it will strengthen us to avoid negative thoughts and actions.  As others feel this mercy, they will naturally turn towards God and begin to improve their soul and lives accordingly. The ripple of love and mercy will be a conduit of evangelization throughout the world. I can’t think of a time where our world has needed it more than the present moment.

"For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world."

“For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”

Advent Approaching

This is my favorite time of year despite colder weather. Christ the King Sunday is this weekend and Thanksgiving is right behind it. Advent is quickly approaching, which means our wedding anniversary will also be celebrated soon.   It has been one year since my health “crash” and as I reflect back on the lessons I’ve learned, I see the blessings in the experience. One of my first lessons was in living out the Advent season. I couldn’t shop, couldn’t decorate and, well, pretty much couldn’t do anything that took any amount of energy over getting dressed. Spending nearly two weeks at a convent allowed me an opportunity for prayer before the Blessed Sacrament like never before and I drank it in deeply.  I spent hours in prayer and spiritual reading, as well as taking lots of time to rest and heal.  I long for that time again.

It is not realistic to retreat to a convent for two weeks every year–after all I have been called to the vocation of motherhood and wife, which requires me to be in the world. I can bring the prayerful aspects of the convent life to my family and my home though. We can make an effort to go to Adoration at least once a week during Advent.  We can refocus and redouble our efforts for daily family prayer. We can resist the secular model of the holidays and refrain from decorating until Christmas Eve. And then, in true rebel form, we can celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas with joy and festivities. I am still trying to wrap my head around how this will look. The kids and Patrick are with me on this and we are all excited to live the Liturgical Year out loud.

Here is what I have thought out so far:

  1. The day after Thanksgiving we used to decorate the whole house for Christmas. This year we will pull out the tree, but leave it undecorated. I will put the lights on, but not light them. Then each day of advent we will put our Jesse Tree ornaments on and read the story from the Bible.
  2. We will also set up the Creche, but leave baby Jesus tucked away until Christmas. On Christmas we will lay him in the manger and sing “Happy Birthday”
  3. Our stockings will be hung in anticipation of St. Nick’s Feast Day on December 6. We will read the story of St. Nicholas and talk about how his story evolved into the present day story of Santa Claus. And I will remind the kids not to spoil the imagry of Santa Claus for other children whose family’s hold that tradition.
  4. If the weather cooperates, we will decorate the house with lights and yard ornaments, but they will remain unlit until Christmas Eve as well.
  5. The kids can set up the new Christmas village and train set that Grandma and Grandpa Allen handed down to us. That will be such a special and exciting activity for all of us!
  6. We will set up an Advent wreath on our table and take turn lighting the candles at our evening meals. I found short, round candles at the dollar store several months ago and snatched them up. Taper candles make me a little nervous and don’t seem to stay in their holders very well.  
  7. The kids are getting old enough to enjoy the reading of Jotham’s Journey. It is an Advent story that is read each night of Advent and you follow the shepherd boy, Jotham through a series of adventures. I challenge you not to read ahead!
  8. We will focus on serving others, attending weekly Adoration, and receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation in preparation for celebrating the greatest gift ever given to us: Jesus Christ Our Savior.
  9. The older kids will sing at the Christmas Eve Mass. For the first time in our married life we will celebrate Christmas Eve at home. After attending Mass, we will arrive home to the house lit up, the tree fully decorated and lighted, and presents wrapped and waiting under the tree.
  10. We will place baby Jesus in the manger, exchange gifts, and enjoy our family time. This will allow us to relax and enjoy Christmas Day as a family: bonding and playing and praying together like I imagine the Holy Family to have done as Mary and Joseph soaked in the wonder of their new babe.
  11. Finally, we will celebrate the end of the Season with our married daughter and her family on Epiphany Sunday. This is a tradition we established several years ago when we realized the stress in trying to squeeze several family celebrations into a few days.

I think we will continue school and work up to Christmas Eve and then take off the entire Christmas Season through Epiphany.  I will leave it up to God with how well it works out. How will you be celebrating your Advent and Christmas?  Have you ever tried to live out Advent deliberately, or are you swept along with the crowd as I usually am?  The secular world has made this holy season into a holiday celebration.  I think we can reclaim Christmas only when we recognize Advent and truly prepare our hearts and homes for Him.  At least this is my hope.