Friday, December 28, 2012

Childlike Faith

Let the Christmas season begin!

What??? you may ask. Like it's totally ended! Well, as a Catholic, we follow the Church's liturgical calendar which means that the season of Advent has finished and that the season of Christmas only just began yesterday and will conclude with the Epiphany on January 13th.

I am no theologian and will not attempt to explain the Church's teaching on this, but I will say that I appreciate the elongated Christmas season. After all of the work and preparations during Advent, I'm so glad there's reason to savor the season a little longer. After all of the fun of the past few weeks, I'm not quite ready to go back to regular life. Furthermore, I'm pooped! Thank goodness I am fully justified in keeping all of the decorations up for a while longer.

I love all of the traditions in our faith that are being passed down to our children. Yesterday Veronica had her first turn of putting the baby Jesus into the manger of our nativity scene as we sang Happy Birthday. I remember having that honor when I was a child. With traditions such as this, I have always looked forward to leading our children in their journey of faith.

What I didn't know is that at the same time, our children would also be leading me through my journey.

A couple of months ago, Joshua and Noah said they would both like to start attending daily Mass. This came as a great surprise to me. And internally, I initially thought something like, "Are you kidding me? You want me to get us all out of the house earlier?! Daily Mass is at 8:00 am!"

Furthermore, I have to admit that there was a time when I thought things like daily Mass were only for religious fanatics or something. It has only been in the last few years that I have developed a real, sincere love for Mass. But did that mean I was ready to get three kids up and ready to attend Mass by myself on weekdays in time for 8 am Mass? I thought one of the perks of homeschooling is that you don't have to get out the door so early!

But how do you tell your kids that? How can you simultaneously teach you children that we love God, that He is our best friend, that Church is our special place to be with God but also that we don't want to go there everyday? I couldn't. And now that we have been going and it is part of our routine, my love for Mass has grown and I am so glad when we go. We don't actually get there every morning. We work with our class schedule, other commitments, our health and state of tiredness, and probably get there three time a week or so.

The children aren't always excited about going. And they surely don't always behave. There was one morning where Jason was working from home and Joshua was especially tired. He knew that there was the option of staying home that day and said that he didn't want to go. I said that he needed to come with us and that if he was really tired and grumpy, he could pray about that in Church. He actually got into the car without any further argument, but was obviously not happy about it.

On our drive to Church, I asked him how he would feel if he was expecting a friend to come over and was really excited about it, but then canceled because they were too tired. He answered that he would be sad. I explained that's how God would feel if we blew off going to Church. His response was, "But sometimes it's haaaaard!"

Yes it is. I certainly have mornings that I don't feel up to it. But I think it's important to teach our kids that we don't give up practicing our faith when it gets hard, as it surely will. If we stop practicing our faith when it's hard, when it's not convenient, when we are too tired, when we are frustrated, irritated, impatient, angry or bored with God, then it may be more difficult to lean on that faith and to feel its strength and support when we need it most. Of course, that's much too difficult to explain to a seven-year-old.

Instead, I continued with the comparison of a friend coming to visit. I explained, "What if that friend was so excited about visiting you that they came even when it was really hard? When they were tired and their car ran out of gas and they had to drive through floods and a dragon tried to blow fire on their car and aliens attacked them? What if they still came after all of that, because they wanted to see you so much? How would you feel?"

"Really good," he replied. And in explaining this to my son, not only did he understand a little more, but so did I. Through my children's questions, they are often leading me.

Sometimes faith is hard. But with children, it's often pretty easy. Most mornings when I dress Veronica, she asks, "Church? Church?" She can't wait till the next time we get to go.

I asked the children on Christmas Eve if their hearts were ready for Jesus to come. Had they made room in their hearts for Jesus this Advent? Noah answered, "Jesus is already in our hearts." Well, yes. Yes he is.

Not only do my children provide inspiration when it comes to our faith, but even more often they provide humor. Each time I receive Communion with Veronica in my arms, she curiously asks, "Cracker?"

Veronica knows we are supposed to be quiet in Church, although this undoubtedly doesn't mean that she always is. At Christmas Eve Mass, when everyone stood and began to pray the Apostles' Creed, she glared at everyone, mortified that we were all talking, and whispered indignantly, "Shh! Stop it! Shh! Stop it!"

And when we finished praying the Our Father, she applauded and cheered.We all laughed, but really, it makes a whole lot of sense to cheer after that prayer.

If only we all had such childlike faith.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Yuletide 2012

Another fabulous Christmas. So many blessings. These pictures describe better than I can, each worth at least a thousand words.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Moving Passage

This passage has always moved me, but it brought more tears tonight than usual. From Richard Paul Evans' The Christmas Box . . .
By the time I reached home it was well past midnight. Mary's brother had arrived from London and in deference I had left them alone to share the last few minutes together. Jenna had been put to bed and Keri, not knowing when I would return, had sadly laid the Christmas packages under the tree. I sat down in the rocker in front of the illuminated Christmas tree and lay my head in my hands. Somewhere between the angel and Mary's house I had figured it out.

The first gift of Christmas. It just came. It came to my heart. The first gift of Christmas was love. A parent's love. Pure as the first snows of Christmas. For God so loved His children that He sent His son, that we might someday return to Him. I understood what Mary had been trying to teach me. I stood up and walked up the stairs where my little girl lay sleeping. I picked up her warm little body and, cradling her tightly in my arms, brought her back down to the den. My tears fell on her hair. My little girl. My precious little girl. How foolish I'd been to let her childhood, her fleeting, precious childhood slip away. Forever. In my young mind everything was so permanent and lasting. My little girl would be my little girl forever. But time would prove me wrong. Someday she'd grow up. Someday she'd be gone and I would be left with the memory of giggles and secrets I might have known.

Jenna took a deep breath and snuggled close for warmth. I held her little body tightly against mine. This was what it meant to be a father, to know that one day I would turn around and my little girl would be gone. To look upon the sleeping little girl and to die a little inside. For one precious, fleeting moment, to hold the child in my arms, and would that time stood still.

But none of that mattered now. Not now. Not tonight. Tonight Jenna was mine and no one could take this Christmas Eve away from me but me. How wise Mary had been. Mary, who knew the pain of a father sending his son away on the first Christmas morn, knowing full well the path that lay ahead. Mary understood Christmas. The tears in the Bible showed that. Mary loved with the pure, sweet love of a mother, a love so deep that it becomes the allegory for all other love. She knew that in my quest for success in this world I had been trading diamonds for stones. She knew, and she loved me enough to help me see. Mary had given me the greatest gift of Christmas. My daughter's childhood.
I share this now with you now in prayer. I pray that I may, and that all parents may, truly savor their children's childhood. Bask in it. Wallow in it. Soak it up. Our children are a gift from God and they are on loan. God-willing they will grow up into adults with hands that do not fold so easily within our own. We never know how long we may have with them. Don't rush it. Don't hurry it. For goodness sake, do all that you can to slow it down, for this phase will be gone too soon. Savor all of the joy that comes from parenthood.

Merry Christmas.

With Love-

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Reflection for Tonight

There are no words. But at the same time there are more than I can write down.

I don't usually write about things like this, feeling as though all of my thoughts are inadequate. Who am I to reflect on the events of this day? The sadness I feel is so miniscule to the heartache so many are experiencing on this night. But in honor of those children and in honor of their parents and all of their families, I am choosing to write. It seems better to reflect than to not.

All of the obvious questions run through my mind. Mostly, why? For some reason, this tragedy strikes a chord with me in a stronger, more raw way than others, surely largely due to having young children right now. Christmas time gives the illusion that this violence is somehow more cruel as it has occurred against the stark contrast of a backdrop of bright twinkle lights, romantic mistletoe, Jingle Bells, festive cocktail parties and family celebrations. The magic and joy of the season now somehow feel slightly wrong or at least the cruelest of ironies. But of  course, this would be horrific no matter the time of year.

I can wallow in this sadness a bit much. Or maybe it isn't wallowing. I don't know. I want to be strong and resilient. I want to appreciate as much as possible that I have absolutely no clue what those families are going through right now. But I also want to be a more compassionate person. I want to sincerely feel real joy for others' joy and good fortune. But compassion also brings feeling real agony for others' despair.

In this sadness, my mind slowly stumbles down a long, winding, dark and haunted road. What are those parents doing right now? I imagine them awake in their beds tonight, fruitlessly, fitfully and tearfully trying to get some rest. I imagine the Christmas presents that they'd already bought for their babies, never to be opened.

It's too much.

How do we handle this?

I only have a few, simple things that seem to help me and these are in no order. First, I stay informed, but then I turn the channel. For me, it is pointless and really counterproductive to listen to or read the details of the violence over and over.

Second, I stay busy. Idleness just leaves my mind too much opportunity to stumble down that road.

Third, I pray.

And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I try to cherish and savor my time with my children. I'm sure we all hugged our little ones more often and more tightly today.What else can we do?

Tonight, we went to the Y as a family. I took my anger out on Zumba. Then after dinner, we let the kids stay up late to enjoy a spontaneous walk in pajamas (and winter coats, hats, scarves and gloves) around the neighborhood to see the Christmas lights, drop off some food at the food bank and come home to hot cocoa.

Tonight, as I rocked Veronica, held her tight and sang "Away in a Manger," tears streamed down my face. We are so ridiculously blessed.

It feels strange that when there is so much hurt, the world just keeps on turning. Children still need to be fed. Dishes to be done. Christmas presents to be bought. Time doesn't actually stop, even though it should.

This night, my heart and prayers go out to all of the families in Connecticut. I wish I could do more.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Flower Girl Preview

Veronica's got a cold with a bad cough, making her a little more cranky than usual. In order to try and cheer her up, I thought she might want to try on her flower girl dress. When I asked, she responded, "Yeah. Shoes?" That's my girl :)

Not only did the dressing up cheer her up, but these photos will definitely be ones that I will look at when I need some cheering up . . .