Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
~ GK Chesterton

Monday, December 29, 2014

Still Christmas!

It is still Christmas. 

It is still time to be flexible and remember that my children are young for such a short period of time.

Having said that, anyone out there feel just a bit obsessive-compulsive about things being Just Right?  I've been like that my whole life.  I was one of those kids who had a neat and orderly bedroom, even if company wasn't coming.  This Just So tendency has given me many opportunities to practice "dying to self" as a mother.

Exhibit A:

Holiday Decorating with Children

It's beautiful to my seven-year-old, so I am leaving the Christmas plate display as it is.

Just for fun, click over to the Buzzfeed quiz: How Much Of A Perfectionist Are You?  It's a collection of photos showing things ranging from slightly off to very off.  Tick the boxes of the photos that annoy you to see how sensitive you are.  Should I submit this photo of mine?

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Blessings to family, friends, and random strangers who drop by the blog!



A bit blurry: low light and a camera phone.  BUT, Jesus is now in the nativity scene!


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve!

Time got away from me.  Not much activity as I'd planned on the blog this Advent.
 
At the beginning of this Advent, I posted about all the quotations I'd been collecting to get me through the weeks.  The funny thing is, I didn't need them.  Morning and Evening Prayer were enough to keep me grounded.
 
Finding Father Barron in the inbox every morning helped.  Pere Jacques was another welcome e-mail with a wonderful source of reflections.  (And a resolution to get to know him better!)  Finally, I found inspiration from Elizabeth Foss and her Advent meditations.
 
I never turned to the arsenal of quotes I’d put together in preparation for Advent.  Perhaps reading the quotes back in November helped me then, so I didn’t need them now.
 
Seeing it written out here makes my Advent prayer seem very busy, scattered, and not at all peaceful.  On the contrary, these sources provided some gentle words to turn to at various times throughout the day when I took a few moments to be quiet.
 
And it worked!  This Advent was no busier than any others, with regards to activities in the schedule.  But I never felt rushed.  We watched Christmas movies.  We made Christmas desserts.  We had family visit two different weekends.  Nothing felt stressed.  Why?  Smart people reminded me to enjoy the moment, to focus on the Goal of this waiting period, and to not worry.
 
It all went well until this morning, when I began to feel upset about the amount of unprepared food still needing preparing.  In the middle of an almost-meltdown, I reminded myself to enjoy the moment and to focus on the Goal of Advent.  I gave myself permission to strike one item off the to-do list and regained my composure about the rest needing to be done.
 
It’s a lovely day here today.  I went for a run this morning.  The temperature was in the 50s and there was a light drizzle.  It reminded me, very pleasantly, of our Christmases in East Anglia.
 
Happy Christmas Eve, everyone!
 
 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Celebrate!

Gaudete Sunday!!

(What's that?  Here's a good explanation from 2013's Third Sunday.)

Bambinelli Sunday!

(If you missed the post a few days ago, here's a helpful link.)

St. John of the Cross . . . Sundays trump Saints' days.  But, happy day to you, anyway!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

St. John of the Cross - Day Nine

Novena Prayer here.

Writings of St. John:

From Degrees of Perfection:



17.  Always be more disposed toward giving to others than giving to yourself, and thus you will not be envious of or selfish toward your neighbor.  This is to be understood from the viewpoint of perfection, for God is angered with those who do not give precedence to his good pleasure over that of humans.

                    I feel a lot of people (Christians and others) get this one wrong.  I see a huge emphasis on being generous with material goods or avoiding jealousy about material things.  I see throughout St. John’s writings that the giving we are meant to do is not to be considered solely in material terms.  Don’t get me wrong, there is a problem in the industrialized world regarding attachment to material goods.  But the problem isn’t material in nature.

                    Why do I say this? I’ve seen envy and selfishness towards neighbor in people of little material wealth and great material wealth alike.  Similarly, I’ve been impressed and inspired by the generosity of both those of little material wealth and great material wealth.  The difference between the selfish and the generous?  Nothing to do with their paycheck or their contribution to the gross domestic product.

                    Some people have turned their backs on the materialism of this world, but haven’t become any less self-centered for it.

                    All giving must originate from a spiritual source.  It’s about giving of self more than it is about giving of things.

                    I find this to be why fasting is an important discipline.  Friday meat fasts, Lenten fasts, periodic fasting from whatever takes one’s focus from serving God, so to serve others. These practices of discipline help us to “be more disposed toward giving to others.”

                    What comes to mind? 1 Corinthians 13, of course!  St. John of the Cross has actually written a number of things about 1 Corinthians 13.  Rather than finish this reflection with one of those quotes, I’ll go straight to the source that inspired John:

If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.  And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.

So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Friday, December 12, 2014

St. John of the Cross - Day Eight

Novena Prayer here.

St. John here:

From Degrees of Perfection:

16. Remember always that you came here for no other reason than to be a saint; thus let nothing reign in your soul that does not lead you to sanctity.

·         How much time do I waste in worrying about things beyond my control?
·         Becoming a saint requires a good deal of dying to self.  Often, I find myself being stubborn about things I should let go.  Even if (or when) I am in the right! These are the things that reign in my soul and hold me back from becoming the person God wants me to be.

“Ridding oneself of what is repugnant to God’s will should be understood not only of one’s acts but of one’s habits as well.  Not only must actual voluntary imperfections cease, but habitual imperfections must be annihilated, too.”
The Ascent of Mt. Carmel, Book Two, Chapter 5

Thursday, December 11, 2014

St. John of the Cross - Day Seven

Novena Prayer here.

St. John's wisdom:

From Degrees of Perfection:

2.  Endeavor to remain always in the presence of God, either real, imaginative, or unitive insofar as is permitted by your works.

·         Eucharistic Adoration!  Before the Exposed Blessed Sacrament!  My favorite devotion!
·         God is present.  Constantly.  It is not “permitted by my works” to spend my life before the Monstrance.  Make many acts of adoration/devotion throughout the day.
·         Remain in God’s presence throughout the day.  Good times: reading a book, dining with family, etc.  Challenging times: difficult people, grocery shopping, other unpleasant chores, etc.

“God sustains every soul and dwells in it substantially even though it may be the greatest sinner in the world.  This union between God and creatures always exists.”
The Ascent of Mt. Carmel, Book Two, Chapter 5

PS to myself: It is good to recall the idea of the unity of God and creatures when faced with the challenge of difficult people.  That is God’s presence at that very moment!  Remember this!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Wordless Wednesday


St. John of the Cross - Day Six

Novena Prayer here.

Words of St. John:

From Degrees of Perfection:

12.  Pay no attention to the affairs of others, whether they be good or bad, for besides the danger of sin, this is a cause of distractions and lack of spirit.

·         Gossip! This is an area where I can boast in the grace of God.  I was once a bit of a gossip, taking too much interest in “the affairs of others, whether they be good or bad.”
·         Does excessive checking of Twitter, Facebook, blogs constitute an over interest in the affairs of others?  Alas, for me, those things can be a distraction and I have to be disciplined about my use of the internet. Especially political things.  I can get so wrapped up in all that.
·         St. John of the Cross would probably counsel me to pray, rather than waste time on other things.  Pray for the state of the world, rather than checking in on breaking news to see what’s happening to it!

“Let those, then, who are singularly active . . . observe here that they would profit the Church and please God much more . . . were they to spend at least half the time with God in prayer.”
Spiritual Canticle, Stanza 29

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

St. John of the Cross - Day Five

Novena Prayer here.

St. John's words:


From Degrees of Perfection:

15.  Remember always that everything that happens to you, whether prosperous or adverse, comes from God, so that you become neither puffed up in prosperity nor discouraged in adversity.

·         Reminiscent of Job.
·         Blessed be the name of God, no matter what happens to us.
·         This kind of trust is the very definition of humility, for me.

“Trust in God who does not fail those who seek him with a simple and righteous heart.”
The Dark Night, Book One, Chapter 10

Monday, December 8, 2014

Preparing for Third Sunday

This coming Sunday is Gaudete Sunday.  It is also Bambinelli Sunday.  Find out about Bambinelli Sunday here, here, or here.  Or even here, if you can speak Italian and plan to be in Italy.

We gave the book to one of our children as a Christmas gift last year.  Yes, Christmas.  Post-Gaudete Sunday.  Ah, well.

What is Bambinelli Sunday?  I learned about from Amy Welborn, author of "Bambinelli Sunday: A Christmas Blessing." As described on the back of the book:
Each year, on the Third Sunday of Advent, children gather with their families in St. Peter's Square for "Bambinelli Sunday."  The children bring with them figures of the Christ Child - the "Bambinelli" - from their family's Nativity scene, or presepe.  During the noontime Angelus prayer, the pope blesses the children and the figurines they have brought.
The book weaves together the description of Bambinelli Sunday and the story of a young Italian boy who will be participating in it.  It's a nice story.  And I tear up at the end.  If you tear up at stories like "The Velveteen Rabbit" or "Charlotte's Web," it will touch you like that.  Not cloyingly sentimental, but touchingly sweet.  Just how I like things!

 
I'm not aware of any Bambinelli Sunday celebrations in my area.  However, I have a handful of budding sculptors in my home, so they may make baby Jesus figurines just for the mantle/under the tree/for the bookshelf.  Almost a full week to get that done!

St. John of the Cross - Day Four

Novena Prayers here.

St. John's words:

From Degrees of Perfection:

9.  Never give up prayer, and should you find dryness and difficulty, persevere in it for this very reason. God often desires to see what love your soul has, and love is not tried by ease and satisfaction.

·         Attempting this now!
·         Dryness with written prayer is the reason I’m devising this alternative novena.
·         Don’t let this give you the wrong impression that I’m’ doing this dryness thing in the right way. I’ve fallen quite a bit.
·         This is not where I am, but this is what I aspire to:

“A genuine spirit seeks rather the distasteful in God than the delectable, leans more toward suffering that toward consolation, more toward going without everything for God than toward possession, and toward dryness and affliction than toward sweet consolation.  It knows that this is the significance of following Christ and denying self, that the other method is perhaps seeking of self in God – something entirely contrary to love.  Seeking oneself in God is the same as looking for the caresses and consolations of God.  Seeking God in oneself entails not only the desire to do without these consolations for God’s sake, but also the inclination to choose for love of Christ all that is most distasteful whether in God or in the world; and this is what loving God means.”
The Ascent of Mt. Carmel, Book Two, Chapter 7

Sunday, December 7, 2014

St. John of the Cross - Day Three

Novena Prayers here.

St. John's words:

From Degrees of Perfection:

4.  Strive for the greater honor and glory of God in all things.

·         Pray a morning offering.
·         Be more intentional about actions and activities of the day, offered to God.
·         Pray Fr. Z’s prayer before using the internet!

“Have habitual desire to imitate Christ in all your deeds by bringing your life into conformity with his.”
The Ascent of Mt. Carmel, Book One, Chapter 13

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Christmas Chocolate

There's something about mint and chocolate at this time of the year!  I'm re-posting a recipe I shared last winter.  Soy-free Almost-Frango Mints.  Because those with soy or gluten sensitivities should not be left out of the fun simply because commercially prepared candies always have soy lecithin or barley in them!

Soy-free, Barley-free Almost-Frango Mints:
~ Melt in a saucepan:

3 cups of Enjoy Life Chocolate Chips (free of soy, dairy, gluten)
1 can sweetened, condensed milk

~ While that is melting in the pan (stirring ever so often),  layer an 8x8 Pyrex dish with parchment or wax paper, then brush it with melted butter.

~ Once the chocolate mixture is melted and smooth, stir in 1.5 teaspoons of mint extract. Pour it into the dish, spread it smooth, and put it in the cold garage to cool.




Once they are cool, pull the parchment paper (or wax paper) out of the pan.  Slice the chocolate, as desired.

As I wrote in the original post, I cut these the size of Frango mints, which is meaningless for those who have never encountered them.  Frangos are approximately one-inch cubes.

(With all apologies to the real Frangos and Pioneer Woman's peppermint fudge!)

(But only small apologies about the Frangos.  They should be Marshall Field's and not Macy's.  So, there.)

St. John of the Cross - Day Two

Novena Prayers here.

St. John's words:




10.  In heaven and on earth, always the last place and office.

·         I find this a complicated for a mother to do in an obvious way.  As the one who has charge over the souls put in my care, I must maintain authority over my children so they have appropriate limits as they learn about the world around them.
·         Maybe the best way a mother would do this is to humble herself in a way not overly obvious: slice herself the smallest brownie, hang up a jacket left out without the child observing it, etc.

“Humility has the effect of charity: It neither esteems nor seeks its own, it thinks no evil save of self, it thinks no good of self, but of others.”
The Ascent of Mt. Carmel, Book Three, Chapter 9

Friday, December 5, 2014

St. John of the Cross - Day One

Novena Prayers here.

Writings from St. John:


 
6.  Do not omit examination of conscience because of any of your occupations, and for every fault do some penance.
·         My examination of conscience tells me how much work I have to do in the area of patience.
·         It might be a good practice to become more aware of my impatience and to make restitution. 
·         Snap at the toddler? Penance: put down the book/smart phone and offer to read her a story.
·         I joke that driving the car is an occasion of sin, mainly because I can get quite cranky as a result of my own impatience.  When I set out to remedy this, it seems that every slow driver in the state finds his way in front of my car. I must reflect on the penance I’d do for losing my cool behind the wheel.
 
“In the patience and forbearance practiced in these voids and aridities, and through perseverance in its spiritual exercises without consolation or satisfaction, the soul practices the love of God.”
The Dark Night, Book One, Chapter 13

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Picking Up Pins

Serendipity!

The title "Picking Up Pins" refers to my post from the other day, in which I quoted St. Therese of Lisieux saying that "to pick up a pin out of love can convert a soul."  I'm working on recognizing the opportunity to pick up my metaphorical pins, as an offering of love, because nothing is too small or insignificant to offer as a sacrifice to God.

Lo and behold, I came across a story that goes with this theme.  The story itself is a few years old, but has returned to social media most likely as a result of the Ferguson case.  A police officer who was shot in the line of duty was found on surveillance tape, minutes before he died, purchasing food for a boy who didn't have enough money to buy his own meal.

Officer Jeremy Henwood's Final Act of Kindness

This is a touching act of kindness. It is the act of someone who is in the habit of practicing kind deeds.  But it could be the act of someone who, that very day, planned to make conscious, mindful decisions to practice love.  Officer Henwood made the choice to show love, without knowing that he was about to come face-to-face with God.  It makes me wonder about the rude people I've seen in public places, yelling at servers or fellow patrons.  Would they act differently, if they knew it could be their last encounter with another person?

We never do know, do we?  All the more reason to be mindful about picking up pins out of love.  I'm working on it!

Here's a direct link to the video:


St. John of the Cross - Feast Day Ahead!

Tomorrow is the day to begin a novena in preparation of the Feast Day of St. John of the Cross.

I haven't considered any new reflections of St. John's writings, as I did last year.  So my plan is to re-read the quotes I chose then, with the novena prayers that were posted at the St. Louis OCDS website a few years ago.

From last year:

I find myself drawn to [St. John's]“Degrees of Perfection” as written in “Counsels to a Religious.”  This link has the Counsels in entirety and its source is the same book from which I’m reading.
 
St. John of the Cross writes seventeen different degrees; I will choose nine – one for each day of the novena.  I’ll jot down my initial, fairly generic, thoughts about each degree I’ve chosen.  I shan’t write down all my thoughts, never fear, primarily because I want to avoid the impression that I’m trying to set myself up as an enlightened spiritual director.  I’m not.  I’m a spiritual neophyte with a blog.  As well, this is meant to be a focus on the writing of St. John of the Cross, not my interpretation of those writings.  Then, I will end each mini-reflection with a quote by St. John of the Cross.  This quote will come from somewhere in his writings other than “Counsels to a Religious.”

Monday, December 1, 2014

"Everything is so big in religion . . ."

For those who celebrate the true meaning of Christmas and for those who believe it is merely a season of cheer and good will . . . advice abounds, this time of year.  How to simplify.  How to say no.  How to savor What Really Matters.  Carving out quiet time. 

Words of wisdom, everywhere you turn.

I'm approaching Advent differently this year.  This is my perspective:  there's nothing new for me in the "simplify and de-stress" articles & I already know that I need to seek out quiet time.  Where I need to work is in learning to cope, with grace, when aspects of life seem beyond my control.

Case in point:  I started coming down with a respiratory bug just a few days before Thanksgiving. It was just an annoyance at first, but the misery built slowly.  The First Sunday of Advent, I was wiped out.  Same story today.  And there it is, no matter how I might have planned to observe Advent, I have started out with diminished energy levels.

Luckily for me, I've been collecting a small arsenal to help me throughout these weeks of preparation for Christmas.  This arsenal consists of the words others have written about marching on with life despite obstacles.  More than a matter of simplifying, these quotes inspire me to carry on in the midst of struggle.  Retreat is not always an option, no matter how much the self-help gurus tell us we need to abandon ship for the nearest spa.

It should go without saying, even though I say it anyway, that the reason we soldier on is God.  Soldiering on for God means more than "pull yourself up by your bootstraps!"  Rather, it is a purposeful choice to go beyond what you think you are capable of doing.  Why do we do it? Because love means sacrifice of self.  For some people, that might mean some very heroic act of the will.  For me, today, that means meeting the household needs even if I'd feel better reclining on a couch with a big book.  That's all right!  Nothing is too small or insignificant to offer to God.

Out of the arsenal today?  St. Therese of Lisieux:
"Let us not refuse Him the least sacrifice.  Everything is so big in religion . . . to pick up a pin out of love can convert a soul.  What a mystery!"  (Letters, Volume Two)
There it is.  I could go about the day, being cranky because I'm under the weather.  Or, I could attempt to overcome self-pity, thereby making the world around me a little better.  That is an act of sacrifice of self that is within my sphere of influence.  Most of us are not going to face life-and-death decisions today.  Instead, we are going to face tens or hundreds of tiny encounters where we can choose between selfishness or love.  Yep, even if we are justified in a bit of self-pity due to health, long lines, cranky co-workers or family.  Nothing is too small!

I shan't completely overlook the holiday "survival guide" types of articles.  Clear the clutter in your house.  Prioritize your calendar well.  Learn to look for the beauty of the present moment.  But "playing by the rules" doesn't guarantee life will run smoothly.  When the rough spots happen, I find St. Therese's wisdom to be reassuring.  Knowing I can pick up my metaphorical pins inspires me to make an effort because God will not overlook my small acts performed out of love.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

First Sunday of Advent



A new liturgical year!

Part of my spiritual preparation will include stepping back from current events stories.  It's perfectly possible to remain aware of what is going on in the world without delving into every gruesome detail of every horrid thing going on.  Prayer moves mountains; dwelling on things beyond my control creates despair.

However, I will still be online.  I will be checking in on the blogs of busy wife/mother bloggers, to see how they are preparing for Christmas in ways both spiritual and material.

And. . .  I've signed up for daily e-mail reflections from Fr. Robert Barron here.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Garden Views: Autumn 2014

I did not do a good job (at all!) of taking photos of my garden this fall.  In truth, I neglected the garden towards the end.  I never officially put it to bed for the winter.  I will likely leave a lot untouched until spring.  Except, as it is meant to be warm tomorrow, I should go collect the remaining vegetation from the veg and herb beds.

This first batch of photos shows early October, end of October, and mid-November views.









Never added more to the Mary Garden besides rose bush and statue. A project for the spring!



These next photos are two garden snapshots in time from the freak dumping of snow in mid-November:




The snow did not last long.  Just a few days later, we enjoyed a walk through one of our nearby parks in 63-degree weather.  Thanksgiving was in the 30s; this weekend is back to the 50s.  Climate change?  Ha!  This weather should be known as: Life in the Midwest of the United States.