Wednesday, 25 December 2013

"holy feelings"

For a couple of years now, this one line from O Holy Night 
has been my richest food for Christmas contemplation.

Long lay the world
 in sin and error pining
'til He appeared 
and the soul felt its worth. 

This year I was seized by something new, 
a longer meditation from What Child is This? 

Why lies He in such mean estate
where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear -
for sinners here the silent Word lies pleading.

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through
the cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh, 
the Babe, the Son of Mary.

This, this is Christ the King, 
whom shepherds guard and angels sing. 
Haste, haste to bring Him laud, 
the Babe, the Son of Mary. 

I've been quite content to have these verses stuck in my head for days, 
to be thought over at every prayerful opportunity
(and to be sung aloud whenever I'm certain 
no one can overhear my near-perfect imitation 
of a musically-inclined dying cow in the stable at Bethlehem.)

Why is He in a stable, for goodness sake?!

fear.... thoughtful consideration should lead to trembling....

the silent Word is pleading.....

beloved baby, tortured and nailed to a cross three decades later = maternal nightmare

Word made flesh.


For days, it's been the big words in the first 2 verses that have most attracted my thoughts;
tonight it is simply the word haste and the urgency attached to the act of praise.

In all the rushing around before, during and "after"* Christmas, 
the only priority about which it is worthwhile to make haste  
is beelining to spend time in the presence of the Infant.

Can one even imagine the shepherds hearing the angelic tidings of a newborn Saviour 
and NOT rushing immediately to see Him?
Could they have moseyed over to Bethlehem? 
Could they have procrastinated, done some other things first,
(and then after doing those things, ended up being too tired/sleepy/wiped out?)

No! A thousand times No!

My goodness, the things that I felt necessary to do before spending time adoring baby Jesus
last night, this morning, today....

* Thank God that Christmas is not over. 
Thank God that tomorrow is Christmas, 
and the next day, and the day after.....
Because I want to do this better tomorrow. 
Tomorrow I want to truly make haste to His side. 

Tonight, at 8pm, 
when I finally carved out a nice big chunk of time from my celebration of Christ's birth 
so that I could think about and pay attention to Christ,
I drove over to our church and entered our little Adoration chapel. 
I waited and waited and waited for some appropriately holy feelings to come. 
A rush of joy....a little wonder...some otherworldly peace....


I tried to force some out - to squeeze something up out of the depths of my soul.

Then I felt the Lord asking me, 
What are you looking for? What is it you are seeking? 
Kelly - what do you want? What exactly is this "holy feeling" you desire?

I didn't have a clue. 
Seriously - I could have asked the Lord to make me feel anything at all, 
but actually.... I really didn't have the foggiest idea of what it was that I wanted. 

After considering it for a few minutes, 
I think I sort of wanted to feel a little like one of those shepherds, 
after they saw the angel(s) and rushed (making haste) to the stable and saw the Holy Family
  (but not exactly like one of them).  

And I knew that experiencing that particular cocktail of fear, wonder, joy, confusion and awe 
was not the gift that the Lord meant to give me tonight. 

Instead, He gently led me to remember my first nights 
utterly alone
with each of my four newborns. 

...and the "little kid first thing on Christmas morning" feeling I had 
every time the nurse woke me up in the hospital that first night of her life
and I would drowsily remember that I have a baby! and be suddenly and exuberantly WIDE AWAKE!
I remember most the perfect JOY.

....who slept very little that night she was born, choosing instead to 
stare peacefully into my reciprocating eyes almost the entire night.
I didn't even feel sleepy. She had the most stunningly beautiful, soulful, dark, dark eyes I had ever
 (and have ever) seen.
I remember most the perfect PEACE.

....who was under six pounds at discharge and seemed so very tiny and vulnerable to me, 
especially since he was too sleepy to nurse at all. I had to feed him hand-expressed milk, in his sleep, through a syringe - for the first week or more of his life.  I remember puzzling over the mystery of his incredibly tiny, fragile body, marvelling that an entire, functioning human person could fit into barely more than five pounds. 
I remember most the sense of profound WONDER & AWE.

...who was slightly more than 8.5 pounds and such an endearingly fat leprechaun of newborn, with a full ginger beard, red sideburns, and chunks of vernix oozing out of every single one of his abundant chubby rolls. From first sight, he made the nurses laugh, his parents laugh, his siblings laugh. There was such a crew to come and take him home, to give him the warmest welcome to our family and to laugh at and encourage him in everything he has accomplished this past year. 
I remember most the outpouring of LOVE.

My most precious, most sacred memories are these:
 my very first night with each child.
Each of those four nights was spent in the most intimate solitude - 
just tiny newborn and mother. 

Tonight, for the first time ever, 
I just pictured Mary alone with Jesus on their first night together.
No angels. No shepherds. No Joseph.
No one. 

Unlike Richard, Joseph did not have to kiss the newborn hello, make his wife comfortable and then hurry back to Nazareth to take care of the toddler and pre-school aged older siblings of the new baby.

But perhaps he left the stable for a half hour to find food or water for his wife. 
Maybe she sent him out for the 1 AD equivalent of nappies. 
Maybe he just had to use the potty himself.
 Surely at some point on that very first night, mother and infant enjoyed perfect solitude.


I tasted, not Mary's own experience, but the remembrance of a shadow of her experience. 
Sacred too. 

And I left the chapel suddenly aware that producing some allegedly "holy feelings" 
was not an act of perfect worship.
Desiring to give perfect worship was.

make haste....
 Venite Adoremus.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013


The saint peg swap was a success! 
One John Paul II peg got lost, so I painted my own as a replacement. 

The kids were given their pegs as an early Christmas present this morning (Christmas Eve)

Bernadette lining up the freshly opened saint pegs

Here's the gang! Each one was painted by a different woman in town. 
A good Catholic should be able to identify every one :)  

Merry Christmas!
May the infant Jesus, who found no room in the inn at His birth, 
be given generous room in your heart and time this Christmas. 
I pray the Lord will bless you with many graces this Christmas
and may your feasting be holy, peaceful and fun!

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

preparing little hearts for Christmas

They're done! 

I had so much fun doing this project. 
It was an awesome quiet, reflective project to dive into for Advent. 

Holy Family

(my girls flipped over the "real" feathers)

shepherds & shepherdess & little peasant girl
(I got ridiculously involved in crafting a "good shepherd")

magi and drummer boy

And after working our way through all our favorite Christmas books
plus some new library loans this year, 
the kids know exactly what to do with the new Nativity pieces. 

Sealy Kids' Top Picks:
Room For a Little One
Little One, We Knew You'd Come
This is the Star
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
The Crippled Lamb
The Fourth Wise Man
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey
Christmas (straight Scripture with intriguing illustrations by Jan Pienkowski)

Monday, 2 December 2013

maggot lady

The elusive "tidy home". I hardly know a woman (or married manwho does not bewail disorder and mess in the house - in degrees exponentially linked to the population per capita of the home (particularly when some of those little "capitas" are toothless and toddling).  Women's blogs are split between those who champion traditional (and perfect) homemaking skills - and those who insist that it doesn't matter - your true friends love you even if your house is a mess.  While I'm sure that's true, it is nevertheless an act of service and consideration towards family and friends to offer a comfortable, clean, attractive place for eating, relaxing and recreating. Good stewardship of our material blessings means, in part, keeping them in a condition that makes it pleasant for others to use them. No matter how many times the rebellious modern insistence resounds, there is something in most of us that inherently loves a clean, orderly home. No one enjoys sticking to the kitchen floor. No one likes to find cat hair in the freezer. No one delights in stepping on a Lego in the dark. I think it's got something to do with the human attraction to the Transcendentals: Truth, Goodness and Beauty. We live in a beautiful, well-ordered universe and something of that is inscribed in the heart's desire regarding indoor living spaces as well. Except the hearts of two year olds. I think it's something that must grow in later, like wisdom teeth.

How I like the library books to be arranged.

How Joseph likes the library books to be arranged.

I find in myself two principals at war:

On the one hand, there is a neurotic impulse towards perfection - an uptight or even resentful attitude of heart that places things above people. I can become impatient with my kids because I want the house to look just so and they ruin it! Or I can be tense and controlling simply because of the way they are interacting (or might interact) with things. That unhospitable determination to keep a nice, pleasant home can instead make it really unpleasant  to live in my home. Rather than using things to make people comfortable, I can sometimes make people uncomfortable on account of things. That's exactly the opposite of good stewardship, good hospitality, good homemaking and good motherhood.

On the other hand....I'm busy. Too busy with more important things to waste my life mopping a floor that will need to be mopped again in approximately 32 minutes. Or I'm tempted at times to write myself a pass for the next - oh, ten years - because I've got a lot of little kids! No one could keep a neat house with four little kids! 

Keeping up with this particular area is a losing battle.

These trucks have a wicker basket "home" but my boys prefer to park them around
(and on top of....and inside of) the fish tank.

Virtue, being the middle of two extremes, finds a balance. Kelly, being in need of a Plan, found Fly Lady. I liked the idea of Fly Lady - you don't try to clean the whole house on one set day; instead she sends you an email every day giving you marching orders for the day's housework. Housework is broken up in little pieces that follow a repeating cycle. I tried it in New Zealand, but her system did not work in my house, for many reasons. So I created a baby version - Maggot Lady, if you will.

I wrote out my normal weekly routines (grocery day, tutoring day, errands day, etc....) and distinguished between days that tended to be less demanding versus those that tend to be more demanding.  On the "easier" days, I assigned myself housekeeping tasks that would be more involved. On the busier days, I assigned fewer, faster or more flexible tasks.  The result: a manageable weekly routine that allows me to keep the house liveable with minimal effort.

Monday:  dust, sweep, mop & vacuum - entire house
                 1 hour maximum

Tuesday: deep clean kitchen
                 30-45 minutes

Wednesday: tidy up a "random area"
                (alternates between car, garage,
                  basement, mudroom/laundry area)
                 15-30 minutes

Thursday: pay bills & sort paperwork.                      
                  5-20 minutes                      
Friday: declutter. tackle piles and put things where they really belong.
            throw out stuff and add stuff to the give-away bags.
            also, organize something (a closet, a shelf, a room)
               15 - 60 minutes

Saturday: deep clean bathrooms, change bedlinens & towels
                 45 - 60 minutes

Sunday: Sabbath rest
                24 hours

8 am, right after breakfast
Two years later, the house is pretty consistently "good enough". There are days and weeks when it is really bad, but most of the time, it's just a matter of keeping on top of the daily crisis areas, the things that spiral completely out of control without daily attention: laundry, dishes, toys and crumbs. These tasks add about another 60 minutes of work per day, but it's spread evenly throughout the day in small bits - and these tasks are also very generously shared with the little people who help create the need for them:)

Less than two hours later....
I have a strong daily routine for when to cook dinner, when to read to the kids, when to pray, and when to brush my teeth (the important things!) and a much looser weekly schedule for my evenings - one night is for grading papers, one is for a Holy Hour, one is a "date night" with Richard, one is "family board games", etc.... Basically, I've realized that if something is important to me, I need to schedule it or it may not happen. Life is busy and the urgent, the immediate (and the internet) will swallow all my time unless I have already dedicated portions of it to what I value or what will contribute most to the sense of well-being in my life. Disciplining myself to follow a routine that I have created is not nearly as hard as living with chaos and the crushing sense that I'm not following through on the things I value.

I share this post not because I have it all together, but because I do not, and I have found the concept of routines to be a great tool for creating order out of the chaos. For me, one of the most stubborn areas of "not growing much"  in my vocation is finding balance -for example, between being extravagantly present to my children during the day while also attending to the tasks that need to be done to foster a sense of order, well-being and peace in the home. Slowly establishing routines has been an immense help in growing in discipline, in making sure that certain goals are met and in making sure that other goals do not completely take over.  And that's something that anyone can benefit from, regardless of gender or vocation.