Hello, 2016. I’m really going to try to make more of an effort to write in this space again as life allows. There were many reasons I stopped blogging – some of which were completely out of my control – but a big reason had to do with me feeling unworthy to share anything of importance. No time (right now) to go into too much detail, but it was a lame excuse to not waste my – and your! – time with some periodic Kate ramblings, so here we go!
I’ve been tidying up over the past few days, and I came across one of many Advent calendars I had tacked up in our kitchen. Each calendar square included a prompt – an activity or a prayer – to help you and your family live the liturgy during this rich time of year. I scanned all of the neglected activities, grabbed that stupid piece of paper, crumpled it up, and tossed it into the trash. It felt like another reminder of everything we didn’t get around to doing. I was feeling low, frustrated that our dog’s death, a refrigerator breakdown, walking pneumonia for my 4-year-old and me, and then unexpected kidney surgery for me thwarted my plans. This was going to be the Advent where we reclaimed joy and simplicity. I dutifully downloaded Elizabeth Foss’s Comfort & Joy ebook way back in November, and I sat down with the kids and we made Advent goals.
Then everything started to fall apart.
After I tossed the neglected Advent calendar, I sat at my dining room table with my new 2016 planner and a rainbow of new pens that usually make me happy, and my eyes brimmed with tears as I considered what further plans I could make and fail to follow through with. But then I looked up at a beautiful portrait of Layla, our beloved family dog, that a friend of mine had painted me for Christmas, and I thought about how with Layla, everything had to do with her family. It was enough just to be with us. She had no agenda other than to be at her masters’ feet. Why aren’t my plans always so simple?
Despite all the health issues, the pet mourning, and the inconvenience of a kaput refrigerator and freezer, I wouldn’t describe this Advent or the subsequent Christmas season as anything less than joyful. The only thing that was really getting me down was the idea of perceived failure because we didn’t do lots of crafts this year or make it through our Advent story collection.
We usually set up our manger scene by the first week of Advent. This year my oldest was busily positioning Mary, Joseph, a menagerie of farm animals, and other onlookers Christmas Eve morning. But it made no difference. Come Christmas morning 6-year-old Mary Elizabeth found Baby Jesus and gingerly placed him in the manger. Jesus came. On that first Christmas, he was born in a dirty stable. None of the surface stuff – the decorations, the kids’ very “un-smocked,” unseasonal attire (my 6-year-old spent most of Advent wearing a fall festival t-shirt with a jack-o-lantern on it), etc. – matters. Jesus just needs a place in our messy hearts.
Like the Grinch tells us, Christmas comes without ribbons or tags or packages or bags. It also comes to homes where saints’ feast days pass by without crafts and special edible treats. It came to my family when Mom was in bed recovering, and Dad was working three 15-hour shifts in a row. Our Advent Plans list did not get checked off completely, but my kids were still joyful. My favorite memory was watching my girls play with my niece on Christmas day – the older ones taking care of the youngest one with servant hearts so my sister-in-law could actually stay seated and finish her Christmas feast.
People took care of me as well when things got unexpectedly rough. I have wonderful family and dear neighborhood friends who were willing to drop everything – including their own Advent plans – to serve my family and me when needed the extra help. This – more than any craft or even beloved Christmas storybook read aloud every year except this one – filled me and my home with the love of Christ. And that’s the good stuff. That’s the God stuff. That’s what His plan is all about.