Advent Life Hacks to Help Your Family Grow in Holiness

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It turns out, for most of my life I’ve had Advent all wrong. Caught up in the whirring consumer machine, I often couldn’t wait to kick start the celebration of Christmas. I’d barely make it to the end of the Thanksgiving meal and I was breaking out the decorations, singing the songs and scrounging at the stores. December 1st signaled the beginning of that most magical time of the year known as Christmas, right? Actually…

(Insert record scratch here.)

Advent is not party time. It’s prep time. What helped me to better understand and explain to my kids was this analogy: Lent is to Easter as Advent is to Christmas. You wouldn’t plan to party it up during Holy Week. (Those of you thinking, why not?… allow me to direct you to some great agnostic sites.) The minute Lent begins, we don’t start celebrating Christ’s glorious resurrection. We work on our spiritual lives. We train in order to get our souls in shape. Then on Easter, it’s the big reveal, the greatly anticipated end to all that work. He is risen! OFFICIAL party time. Now pass the doughnuts!

In a similar way, the four weeks preceding Christmas are meant for prayer, penance, and soul-searching. While I probably sound like a super Grinchy party pooper, consider the very last act of “A Christmas Carol.” Think about Ebenezer throwing open his shutters to realize it’s Christmas day. Everything is decorated and people are bustling around wishing each other a Merry Christmas. We are all overjoyed by the transformation that has happened in one night. That’s because, in the merry old England of Dickens’ time, people didn’t celebrate Christmas until—wait for it—Christmas day. That was the Christian custom since forEVER. There’s a beauty and excitement in anticipation. Think of a bride and groom as their wedding day nears. The lead up doesn’t have to be somber and sad, it can be thrilling, joyful and rejuvenating. But the point is, as Christians our Advent should look very different from how Amazon and Target portray it. Slick ad agencies do NOT get to dictate what this time of year is all about.

Our family is planning to implement a few tactics so we can be ready for the big day. Join me as we get our Advent ON. These are the Advent Hacks that are helping us grow in holiness…

1. SLOW DOWN and SIMPLIFY!

This is a heck of a lot harder than it sounds. We shouldn’t be spending our spiritual prep time running around here and there, but if you’re like me, your December is a blur of parties, events, shopping, baking, decorating, house guests etc. That stuff swallows up our souls and in turn our sanity. There’s a simple, but a not-so-easy solution. Practice saying, “NO.” This is crucial to growing in holiness. It’s ok to let people down. But we can not let our Lord and Savior down. He deserves our whole hearts. When I naturally revert to rushing around mode, I try to reflect on the life of the Blessed Mother. She’s certainly not frazzled and anxious as she awaits the birth of Jesus. Rather, she is the picture of tranquility and peace. Simplify your life at this time of year. Don’t fall into the trap of ramping up the craziness.

2. READ SCRIPTURE AND PRAY AS A FAMILY.

I know we are all overscheduled, but make room for this. Consider axing something else, perhaps something that rhymes with Shmelo-vision. Say a Rosary on each Sunday of Advent. While we often pray on our commutes to and from school, during the Advent season, we should consider setting aside time when all are present and gathered at home. Pick a regular day and time and stick to it. If your family finds it too tough to remember, pray the Rosary as a family right after Mass. What a beautiful witness to the rest of the parish. The Rosary is such a great family devotion since you are walking through Jesus’s life in each mystery. You can also read from the Gospel of Luke each night. Just immerse yourself in the Word. This time of year is about meditating on the Word becoming flesh. In order to do that, we must grow in intimacy with the Word.

3. BE CREATIVE. MAKE SOMETHING COMPLETELY FROM SCRATCH.

This may seem counterintuitive to the above directives, but it’s not. Paint, bake or build something. This will actually help you to slow down and enjoy some real downtime with one another. I’m about to blow my super cool image by revealing that I enjoy making Christmas salt dough ornaments in December. Yup, a crafting nerd. It’s the best way to detach from the rest of the world. There’s something in the ritual of taking the time to make something over several days. You sculpt, bake and finally paint. Pop some Gregorian chant music on Pandora and enjoy. Do things with your hands that require some work. They don’t have to be masterpieces, but they have to be homemade. Those of you who don’t consider yourselves artistic or gasp!—crafty, consider getting a good classic book and reading it aloud as a family. Think Heidi, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Little Britches. We’re currently plodding through Helen Keller’s autobiography. The whole idea is to embrace a project that is totally NO-tech. This naturally pulls our focus from the shiny, material things in the stores that are designed to get us to buy buy buy. Put your focus on God’s creation.

4. SCHEDULE A FAMILY MEDIA FAST

Choose certain hours or a day when devices are off limits. It’s not forever, just until Christmas. Help to break your reliance on all the stuff that detracts from our relationships with one another and especially with God. Promise your kids you’ll abstain from your phone on Friday evenings. That time can be replaced by an activity together, a board game, read aloud time, praying.

5. RECITE AND COMMIT TO MEMORY AN ADVENT PRAYER

Reciting a new daily prayer signals a change for us habitual humans. Add this prayer to your family’s routine and experience the interior transformation. I found this on Dynamic Catholic’s Best Advent Ever.

Heavenly Father, your son, Jesus, is your greatest gift to us, a great sign of your love. Guide us as we strive to walk in that love together as a family this Advent. As we prepare our hearts for Christmas, bring us closer to each other and to your son. Give us the grace and strength we need every day. Help us to always trust in you. Come, Lord Jesus, lead all people closer to you. Come and dispel the darkness of our world with the light of your love. Amen.

Have a blessed, spiritually fruitful Advent. Onward, ho! ho! ho!

*Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Popping the Catholic Bubble

I am not a hugger. But I have a dear friend who is. She will “love-on” the most unsuspecting stranger with abandon. Often when I’ve introduced her to others I lead with, “Be prepared… she’s a hugger.” Then I stand back as she envelops them in a firestorm of affection. If the recipient of the hug is not particularly into it, they often glare at me over her shoulder, followed by a resigned eye-roll from within the folds of her exuberantly tight embrace. I just watch, both cringing and marveling at her expressive boldness.

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How to explain the hugger vs. the non-hugger? Well, my emotionally demonstrative friend has a much smaller personal space bubble than I. You’ve heard how different cultures have varying ideas of acceptable physical contact upon introductions. If you have a Mediterranean bubble, you’re more hands-on and more likely to touch, hug or even kiss someone you’ve just met. Picture the Italians’ cheek-to-cheek smooch, which is a standard greeting among new acquaintances. A person of German or British descent, however, might be more likely to give you a good bit of space and disdain any seemingly gratuitous touching with a person who is not a relative or friend. And a joyful, extroverted lady who hails from the heart of Iowa?—well, expect a big old midwestern uninhibited hug. (For the record, I do hug, but the aforementioned  requirements of relative or friend  must be met before I feel—to borrow from the cool kids’ vernacular— “getting all up into someone’s grille.”)

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Signs You Suffer M.V.D.S on Your Faith Journey

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I drive a minivan. Don’t be jealous. It’s been seven glorious years since my husband and I decided to take the plunge and purchase our little Honda house on wheels. To my mind, we made the right decision. From the ease of the automatic sliding doors when hands are juggling groceries, diaper bag, and baby carrier, to the times we’ve happily hauled gaggles of kids on field trips, it’s been a helpful tool in achieving our family’s version of domestic contentment. However, there have been definite downsides that demand address. “What is that smell?!” Don’t get me started on the joys of finding hidden-away “treasures” in the very back row. Suffice it to say, the heralded discovery of a new antibiotic may be in our future. But a much more pressing and troubling concern regularly plagues me. Everyone else on the road who is not a minivan driver is suffering from a severe case of M.V.D.S.

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Beware! Are you a ZOMBIE Catholic?

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(This was posted last October and got a lot of great feedback, so I’m reposting for those of you who would like a refresher on Zombie Catholicism. I added a particular prayer at the end of the post that has helped me personally keep the zombies at bay)

Halloween is just around the corner. And as usual, I expect to see my fair share of kids trick-r-treating in their zombie get-ups: pasty white masks with dark, vacant circles for eyes, torn shirts and pants, occasionally a little flourish of fake blood splattered here or there. It’s usually the teenagers who go all out with the most gruesome costumes, but occasionally a five-year-old will greet me at the doorstep decked out in full zombie face paint and garb. I respond the same way each time. “Oh… wow…quite a costume,” I stutter with my best perma-smile. “My, look at all that blood… here’s your candy,” I murmur, avoiding eye contact while timidly dropping a couple snickers in the outstretched bag. Then I anxiously scan the perimeter to make sure there aren’t any zombie parents lurking nearby.

Don’t chuckle. Zombies exist. They dwell in our midst.

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Holding Out for a Miracle

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“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” 

—Matthew 7, 7-8

I was reading a very insightful reflection on prayer recently and was struck by something mentioned. It stood out because the author advised a practice I normally don’t adhere to.

“Pray boldly!” it stated in very clear black and white.

Hmmm… this shocked me to be quite honest. The writer’s directive for having a successful prayer life was essentially ‘to go big or go home.’ Huh.

What does praying BOLDLY even look like?

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A Case for Daily Mass in Catholic Schools

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My kids are officially back in the swing of school. I know what you’re thinking: WooHoo! Carline drop-off must be the most absolutely magical part of the day! I must admit, watching my kids exit through the automatic sliding minivan doors with the exchange of a kiss, is pretty awesome. (What stay-at-home mom doesn’t crave a few hours of solitude to accomplish the endless household chores before they all frantically pile back in taking their seats in the constant carousel ride of family chaos?) But, believe it or not, the drop-off is not my absolute favorite part of the day. There’s another much more special moment that wins by a long shot!

It comes shortly after morning carline, and quite frankly, its significance kind of snuck up on me. Over time I’ve come to cherish it as the treasured gift from God that I know it to be.

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Filth & Faith Part 2: Weathering the Storm in the Church

A couple of weeks ago, a huge fall thunderstorm erupted in the middle of the otherwise quiet night.  It startled me from a dead sleep. I tried my absolute best to disregard the racket and the flashing light in order to remain blissfully slumbering.

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I was in that foggy quasi-sleep state in the midst of trying to self-soothe back to a deep unconsciousness, when one of my sons snuck into our room and boldly announced, “What is going on out there?!” If you’ve ever had a kiddo swoop in while you’re trying to rest, you’ll understand when I say my hair was now standing on end. Children are like nighttime ninja. You never hear their stealthy approach but are made frighteningly aware when they are hovering mere inches from your face. It’s straight out of a horror film.

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