Prepare Ye the Way

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It was a few days into Advent when I looked around to discover little hints of autumn still strewn throughout the house.

There was a basket of gourds on the coffee table and several small pumpkins on the mantel. Paper maple leaves hung from the dining room chandelier while Henry’s tiny handprint-turned-turkey decorated the fridge.

The only sign of a change in the seasons – liturgical or otherwise – was the Advent wreath on the dining room table. I had actually taken that out of the attic a few days before Advent began, and even though I was using last years’ candles (short, but doing the trick) I felt like I was really on the ball.

I was feeling absolutely ahead of the game until that glance, the one reminding me that the seasons had changed but my décor had not.

Truthfully, I try not to do too much Christmas decorating so early in Advent. We are preparing for the Christmas season, but not technically in it. Growing up, my family always decorated our tree on Gaudete Sunday (or “Pink Sunday” as we called it) and I still feel compelled to take my time before I totally deck the halls.

But major decorating aside, there are still plenty of other smaller efforts I want to make. I made a mental note, as I surveyed the scene, to purge the gourds and at least bring out our Nativity set and a few other items to set our sights on Advent.

The problem was, everytime I thought about getting more décor from the attic I would stop short. I didn’t want to bring out anything until I could do a really deep clean to get the house ready for all the upcoming excitement. No hauling out any more items or covering any surfaces without first wiping everything down. I needed to clean out corners and dust and get everything just so.

My work for those next few days was certainly cut out for me.

As we were sitting in Mass on the first Sunday of Advent, I found myself praying for grace and peace. The front end of this beautiful season feels like the calm before the storm – the first Sunday of Advent is wonderful because the frenzied pace of last minute gift-buying and card-sending and party-going – none of that has hit just yet.

I sat in my pew and watched light filter through the stained glass windows. I soaked up every bit of calm the Lord had to offer in that beautiful space and I asked him to bless me, to bless my family as we started this season. In that moment, and over the next few days, each time I asked for this grace and peace the reply was the same: prepare ye the way.

This is what Advent is all about of course – preparing the way. We prepare practically on so many levels, marking things off our always-growing To Do lists. We can’t ignore the practical, especially not in this season. We prepare gifts and menus, we prepare our Christmas outfits and we prepare our home for all that is right around the corner.

But the most important thing we prepare is our hearts – if we neglect the interior life than we have done nothing.

In his homily from the first vespers of Advent, Pope Benedict reminded the faithful of the importance of this preparation, of keeping our eyes on the eternal perspective in order to have the greatest joy in this season.

“Advent is the time…of joy, of an internalized joy, that no suffering can erase. Joy because of the fact that God became a child. This joy, invisibly present in us, encourages us to walk with confidence.”

In the midst of a million practical details, I remind myself that the greatest, most important preparation for Christmas is to prepare my heart. I want to prepare it to celebrate Christ’s birth, to soak up the joy he brings that cannot be diminished by any other detail of my life. 1792″> ,

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Thought for Today

1791 1791_ () 1791 1791 I hope your Christmas preparations don’t make you feel like this:

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Thinking Right

1790 1790_ () 1790 1790 On the way home from Mass yesterday, we got stopped by a train. We witnessed the entire eight-minute passing because we arrived at the intersection just when the train did.

As we sat there, watching car after car, one of the boys remembered a story Daddy had told them about the time he climbed onto a moving train to get to the other side. Paul is always quick to add a) how slow the train was moving that day and b) how very, very foolish it was of him to attempt such a feat. Yes, yes, the boys will say as they eye the train with wonder, a bad idea, we should never do it, we hear you.

But of course, I can’t be sure that they really, truly hear what we are saying. Most times, I am pretty sure they’re just telling me they understand the risks so I will quit driving the point home by getting a little louder each time I repeat my words (slow. foolish. Slow. Foolish. SLOW MOVING TRAIN! VERY FOOLISH INDEED!)

Yesterday, as we watched that train glide by, Elliott said something about how awesome it would be if we put a penny on the tracks. We should try doing that, he said and then, before I could even counter his suggestion with relentless safety warnings, he recanted that statement and said something I will never forget.

“Never mind,” he said, “that’s a bad idea. My arm is worth more than a penny.”

My heart soared. My eyes teared up. My eleven-year-old son uttered something so sane and logical that I have felt like the Queen of the World ever since. 1790″> ,

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Hospitality: Don’t Ignore the Urge

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Last Spring, we got some new neighbors, a sweet newlywed couple we had known for a long time who would now be living right across the street. I was so excited. Every time I saw the couple before the wedding, we’d talk about them coming over right after the honeymoon and how great it would be to have them so close.

Then I blinked and six months went by. Half a year later and we had not had them for dinner, not one time.

At a wedding reception recently, Paul and I were chatting with the couple, bemoaning the fact that we had been such poor neighbors. Yes we had seen them in passing, hung out on their front porch here and there, but I had yet to make the effort to invite them for dinner. By the end of the evening I promised (again!) that we would have them over very soon.

A few days later, I started getting dinner ready and had the thought that I should call the couple. Our evening was free and what I was about to cook would be totally acceptable for having people over – it wasn’t French cuisine, but it wasn’t frozen waffles either.

The minute I had the thought, however, I started to push it out of my mind. It’s crazy to invite someone so last minute, I thought. What if they’ve already cooked? What if they’re tired but they feel compelled to say yes? What if they’re busy? The list went on and on.

I don’t know where that mental conversation went, but a few minutes later I was talking with one of my boys in the front yard when the couple pulled in from work. Before I knew what I was doing, I called over and asked if they wanted to eat in, oh, about an hour?

We’d love to, was their reply.

I went back inside, shocked by my behavior. Normally dinner company required a good week of fretting on my part. Not this time!

And then I looked around. Not too bad. Dinner was cooking, the house was in pretty good shape. I decided to wipe down the bathroom (one of my daily chores anyway) and it all came together without me breaking a sweat.

The couple came over and we had a really fun time. It was low key, a school night and people had things to do. They stayed for about an hour, helped cleanup after dinner and then headed home to finish their evening. I sat back and thought “now that was fun!”

Too often I talk myself out of hospitality. I think about inviting a family or couple, and then in my mind turn it all into a very big deal. I want everything to be just so, the menu, the home, the behavior of my boys. I’ll look around the house and convince myself that “now” just isn’t a good time to have someone over. “Once we do this project, or get that repainted,” I’ll say, “then conditions will be right.”

But that never comes – that feeling of perfection is unattainable. There is always something else that we can tackle. Paul and I recently hosted a shower for some dear friends and even with a six-month notice I didn’t get everything done on my to-do list! Things aren’t that run down, I’m just always able to find some other project to tackle.

On this recent night, I acted spontaneously and shot from the hip. I took the plunge and invited the couple without fretting about a million little details – and it was every bit as fun as all those times I have invited people over and worked my fingers to the bone in preparation. 1789″>

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