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I came across this informative video. I think you should take a look.

Why So Crazy?

My frenzied thoughts at the end of a long day resonated with many of you (and thank YOU right back, because me making you not feel crazy makes me not feel crazy). But one reader made a comment (here and over at Jen Fulwiler’s blog) that really got me thinking.

Said SWP:

Why not wait until Advent is over before putting up the tree? Relax. Enter into the time of waiting and preparation. Be at peace. The tree can wait. you have most of January to enjoy your tree. The Pope keeps his tree up until the feast of the Presentation, Feb.2, so what’s the rush?

and also:

Testosterhome posted a similar note of exasperation about how busy busy busy she is and can’t get into Advent. I don’t understand- four candles- how hard is that? Pray before bedtime.

Since he called me out publicly (in response to my public musings, to be sure), I thought I would consider his comments.

First off, the tree: the tree is no big deal to me. Growing up, we bought and decorated our tree on Gaudete Sunday (Pink Sunday as we call it). So I don’t have a standard of day-after-Thanksgiving tree decorating. I didn’t put that pressure on myself. Instagram did.

Kidding aside, my point with the tree was just how I was running all these Christmas-y errands and it wasn’t beginning to feel anything like Christmas. That’s okay, because it isn’t Christmas — it’s Advent. I understand the difference.

Is it really just four candles? I suppose it could be. Yes, in a perfect (calm, peaceful, Christ-centered, ignore-the-needs-of-my-family world) my day could indeed consist of quiet duty-of-the-moment interactions, rounded out by the lighting of the candle and a nice quiet prayer time in the evening.

The tricky part is that I’m not Fr. Tim in the Mitford Series (as much as I have envied his quiet evenings from time-to-time). Nor am I a consecrated sister. Those are beautiful, inspiring, Christ-centered lives that really can and do make prayer a central all-encompassing part of the day.

But while I am indeed called to the same level and depths of spirituality as a priest or religious — not to make us all feel stressed, but Jesus does want our YES as much as he wants theirs — we are called to go that deep with the Lord, but we are also presented certain challenges that our unique vocations offer.

Family life is not always conducive to quiet pray in the evening, it’s not about the simple act of lighting a few candles. Family life in Advent means so very much more than that, try as I might to simplify this season.

This time of year I so desperately want the pace to slow down. I want to calmly sit and ponder the coming of the Christ-child, to meditate on the depths of God’s love for me as he became human, to think about the journey and saga of a baby being born to save the world.

In the meantime, there are children. And a husband. And Christmas to prepare for, and I have to tell you here that Christmas does not just magically happen. Even people taking the most simple approach, with minimal gifts under the tree (our hope and aim this season) — well, minimal times six children equals plenty of errands to run.

And even if we took Christmas completely out of the picture right now, even if Advent really were just four candles waiting to be lit, the rest of life still speeds by. Yesterday, for example, I worked in Henry’s kindergarten class for one hour. Minimal. Then popped by the middle school to check on something over there. Minimal. Then went home and tended to my sick (going on three days) high school student. That afternoon, I took four children to the doctor to make sure the cough had not turned to bronchitis, that the earache was not an infection. From there we went straight to a basketball game, and then we were off to Mass for the Vigil of the Holy Day.

None of this was Christmas related.

But throw into a day like that even a minimal To Do list (order a few gifts online, think about dinner, spend some time in prayer) and you have had a very full (wonderful, exhausting) day that is unavoidable.

It’s just not that easy my friend. We can talk about keeping it simple (that was going to be my mantra this Advent: Keep It Simple, Sister. K.I.S.S.). And try as I might, even the most simple Advent is still making me tired. Just a little.

Thoughts at the End of a Long Day

Soooo tired. So tired.

Those are my first two thoughts.

Here’s the deal: I don’t even have a Christmas tree up! So today I spent many many hours running around like Crazy Lady marking things off a to-do list so expansive it would make your head spin. Or possibly you might confuse my list for your own?

The only nice thing about feeling like I’m going a tad crazy is I know I’m not alone. Tis the season. (Please read my previous post/column about not getting sucked into the frenzy, just so I don’t have to rehash those sentiments here). But bottom line: today was a long day, I used many of my free hours (all of them) doing my shopping which I only started two days ago. Also: tree. Still not up (since the previous paragraph).

So it still doesn’t feel like Christmas here. That’s okay. It will. But it just didn’t work out with our schedule to go get our tree just yet. We have a very set tradition of going out to the country to get our tree and each year I sort of toy with the idea of not making the drive and my dear sweet husband reminds me that this is the place that drills the hole in the bottom of our tree so all we have to do when we get home is plop the tree on our stand and snip the netting. Voila! Perfection! No more days of the boys saying things like “mommy? What’s dammit?” “WHERE DID YOU HEAR THAT WORD?” “That’s the thing Daddy says when he’s putting up the tree…” (full disclosure: the true story is that was the word Ethan learned when daddy was building the swing set, lo those many years ago.)

Switching gears. Can we talk for a minute about food? Because I have a real issue with it.

So maybe today was a day when me, the NON-Foodie, if ever there was one, should not have embarked on making a roast chicken. But I did, because I had a chicken in the fridge and everyone knows roast chicken is super easy to make. Except I was exhausted from running around town for many hours in a row today (sans kids, which meant I was like a monkey on speed. MUST GET ERRANDS RUN!). And then I came home, with my van full of exhausted children, and I was tired and they were tired and I made dinner and then dinner was just exhausting.

Will we ever have a point at which dinner isn’t exhausting? You think?

True, we are coming off of sick days. I’ve had at least one child home from school sick every day this week (today was obviously the oldest, as I left him home to R+R alone for a bit).

But anyway, I LABORED over this chicken which I totally did not but I’m such a martyr when it comes to food that I’m ashamed to admit that when I cook I just expect the world to stop revolving and rotating and could we all just bend a knee in gratitude at this delicious roast chicken fer cryin’ out loud. Also, why were you so much more gracious last night when I made mac and cheese and then headed out on a hot date with your daddy? Huh? Why?

Because, sad to admit, I could make mac and cheese every night for a month and no one would ever complain. Throw in taco night here and there and I’m Mother of the Year. But crack open a binder of Barefoot Contessa and everyone heaves a sigh and tries so hard to just endure.

So anyway, those are my thoughts that I’m so graciously sharing with you. It’s complicated. Do you feel like Dr. Kroger reading all that? I bet you want to bill me for your time. You’re the best. Thanks for listening.

Advent Resolutions

Oh, Thanksgiving, you really did a number on me. You were fun and full of life, overflowing with glorious time spent with the family I love so dearly. But then you tricked me by being “not Christmas” and made me believe I wasn’t tired and the next thing I knew, BAM! After four solid days of family time, I hit the wall and that was all she wrote. Enough. Fin. Caput.

The Monday morning after that marvelous, exhausting weekend, I was still in fine form. I was holding my own and so you duped me, Thanksgiving, into thinking I had made it through, that I had weathered the storms of exhaustion just by willing myself not to be tired.

But lo, Tuesday morning rolled around and you, Thanksgiving, handed me my walking papers. You said, “that was fun, but now it’s time to pay.” And pay I did. I was so worn out, as I got my children out the door, that I had very little left to give. And it was not pretty. And as the last child clicked his seatbelt, I said a little prayer that nothing would happen to me while they were at school. I didn’t want this particular morning to be their last memories of me. It was that bad, I was that out of sorts.

So I regrouped. I took some time. I took a few deep breathes and spent some time in prayer. And while I could have told the Lord all about it, I took comfort in the fact that he already knew and we didn’t need to rehash how tired I was and how I was running on fumes. Instead, I sat in silence and felt him close and thanked him for all the happiness and goodness of a life that is so brimming with love that it sometimes tosses me about, like a tiny speck in a vast ocean.

If that was Thanksgiving, I’m tempted to fear, how will we manage Christmas? We are standing on the edge of a ravine and once we take the next step, the one leading into Advent, we set in motion a flurry of activity that won’t end for weeks to come.

I feel scared.

But not really. I don’t. Somehow, here I am, a few days after my Thanksgiving fatigue and I am excited and full of hope. Embarking on the busiest season of the year, far busier than the week that just tossed me about like the tiny ship I am, and I find myself joy-filled and happy.

This is exactly what Advent means, the redemption of Christ, his willingness to come to us in the most helpless form of humanity. He is so much bigger than our fear, than our problems that are truly epic (and even the ones that only feel that way). God is here in all of it, guiding us closer to him.

Practically, as the journey of Advent carries us towards the Christ-child, I am focused on a plan to avoid, as much as possible, the burnout that Christmas can too easily bring. Because that’s not what it’s all about. And while being tired and stretched thin sometimes just comes with the territory, we can work to prevent this season from becoming all about frenzy and exhaustion.

My advent resolutions are:

  1. Take time to pray. Even though it seems like the busiest time of the year, I have to make time to slow down. If my day is too packed with errands and class parties, then I need to set the alarm a little earlier. Even fifteen minutes in quiet meditation will keep me centered on the peace of Jesus.
  2. Operate deliberately. Be present to the people in my life, especially my children. Take time to enjoy this season. Notice the lights. Point out the Nativities. Seek Jesus in everything.
  3. Focus on love. Who can we bless today? It’s very simple, doing acts of love. And an Advent that focuses outward, on being Jesus to those around us, will be a fruitful season indeed.

Mostly importantly, I will remind myself that Jesus is what this is all about. He is our solace in the storm and flurry, in the frenzy of our wonderful life. He loves us, and he delights in us more than we might ever comprehend.

This originally appeared in The Southern Cross.