The Engelman Family Six Days of Christmas

The first six days of Christmas were such a comedy of illness and dog mishaps, Ray and I were inspired to rewrite “The Twelve Days of Christmas”.    Hopefully, things are on the up-swing – hence the fact that I’ve stopped at six days of Christmas in the lyrics below.  At the moment, it appears that only two kids are sick, two seem to have gotten over it and Ray thinks he got a very mild case.  Thanks to my super-diet-powered immune system, I haven’t gotten it…  but now that I’ve written that I’m sure to be sick tomorrow.

For a lovely spiritual look at “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, may I recommend www.livethetwelvedays.com?  But for the reality of the Engelman Christmas 2012, read (or sing) on:

On the first day of Christmas, our family gave to us…

Four really tired children.

On the second day of Christmas, our family gave to us…

One-oh-two point 6, and four really tired children.

On the third day of Christmas, our family gave to us…

Vomit in the bathroom, one-oh-two point 6, and four really tired children.

On the fourth day of Christmas, our family gave to us…

A cancelled family trip, vomit in the bathroom,

one-oh-two point 6, and four really tired children.

On the fifth day of Christmas, our family gave to us…

Dog potty on the floor!

A cancelled family trip, vomit in the bathroom,

one-oh-two point 6, and four really tired children.

On the sixth day of Christmas, our family gave to us…

 Another child a-puking, dog potty on the floor!

A cancelled family trip, vomit in the bathroom,

one-oh-two point 6, and two totally exhausted parents.

I hope your Christmas is going better than ours, and that you have a very happy and safe New Year!

Christmas Do-Overs

Christmas Eve couldn’t have been better.

Well, actually, it started with Bonita vomiting at 4:30 in the morning, but when she woke at 8 she was completely fine.

I turned on some Christmas tunes and we transformed our purple-draped Advent tree into a beautiful, white, silver, and gold – with a hint of purple – Christmas tree.

We made it to Mass just in time to get a seat, thanks to Sister Barbara.  Of course, twenty minutes early isn’t nearly enough to get good seats, so our pew was in the very front row, where half the congregation had full view of all the misdeeds my children might perform.  Perhaps they were well-behaved because they felt conspicuous; perhaps because they got a better view of all the goings-in; or perhaps it was to stay on the “nice” list.  Either way, I’m extremely grateful for the lack of fighting, whining, and fit-throwing!

After Mass, we went to my sister’s home to celebrate a tradition she started several years ago – a birthday party for Jesus, complete with birthday song and cake.  We ate the cake on her “Twelve Days of Christmas” plates, and sang a rousing rendition of that song as well, each of us according to our plate.  Bonita and I were the “partridge in a pear tree”, and my two oldest nephews exuberantly sang “Five gold rings,” pointedly off-key.

As usual, it was a late night – nearly eleven before we were home.   Once the kids were in bed, Ray and I got down to the business of gift-wrapping and stocking preparation.  I thought I was on top of things this year, but apparently I was wrong, as we were up until after two.

The next morning, we continued a family tradition of praying a special prayer at the top of the stairs – before Santa’s bountiful treasures could create a distraction.  Then we lovingly carried Baby Jesus down the stairs and placed him in his manger.

Following on such a wonderful Advent and a joyous Christmas Eve, this would surely be an equally wonderful, Spirit-filled Christmas Day, right?

Alas, this Christmas day was proof that we can never take anything for granted.  On the way home from my parents’ house Christmas night, I realized that it didn’t feel the least bit like Christmas.  It seems that, as the day progressed, we had moved further and further away from that moment of prayer shared before opening gifts.

We got caught up in the busy-ness of the day: getting the house straightened and brunch made; visiting with Ray’s brother, wife, and daughter; rushing almost immediately after to my parents’ house for family Christmas there; the craziness of eleven children opening presents; chatting with family; worrying that Ray would lose our vacation money in his blackjack game.  Somewhere in all that busy-ness, we left the true meaning of Christmas where he lay in his manger.  Sadly, other than standard “grace” with the children, we even forgot to pray before the evening’s casual Christmas dinner.

Fortunately, there isn’t really just one day of Christmas… there are twelve!  OK, we can’t recapture the magic of Christmas day, but this year especially, I’m very happy to get eleven “do-overs”.

Eleven more days to play Christmas music.

Eleven more days to enjoy the Christmas tree.

Eleven more days to leave the lights blinking on the front of the house.

Eleven more days to revel in the glory of God with Us,

God who saves,

God himself humbled,

God made man.

“And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor,

Mighty God,

Eternal Father,

Prince of Peace.”

Isa 9:6

Thank you, God, for do-overs.

The Covenants Fulfilled and Christ is Born! Reflections for Christmas Eve and Day

Let’s face it, no matter how much you did to prepare, the next two days promise to be crazy.  So, the reflections are short, in recognition of the realities of life.  I pray that we will ponder these words of the Gospel throughout our busy days today, tomorrow, and every day to come!

Dec. 24 (Person – Jesus, Symbol – Manger)

“Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.” Luke 2:10-11

Read Luke 2:1-20

Reflection:  We started our Jesse Tree 24 days ago.  We read about how God created the world, Adam and Eve’s first sin, and God’s covenant promises to Abraham.  Those promises were land, a kingdom, and worldwide blessing.  This whole story that we’ve been reading for the past few weeks leads up to this point.  God has given us an everlasting kingdom – the Kingdom of Heaven – and he has given us worldwide blessing, through Jesus Christ!

Just as Mary “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart,” let us always remember in our hearts that God gave us Jesus Christ to save the world.

Let us pray:  Heavenly Father, thank you so much for the gift of your Son, Jesus Christ.  Please help us to keep all these things in our hearts, so that they may guide our every thought, word, and action.

Bramantino - De aanbidding der herders
Bramantino – De aanbidding der herders, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 

Dec. 25 (Person – Christ, Symbol – Chi Rho Symbol)

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”  John 3:16

John 1:1-18, 3:16

Reflection: Christ is born!  Hallelujah!

Let us pray:  Heavenly Father, we thank you again for the greatest gift of all – your Son, Jesus Christ.  Sweet Jesus, we thank you for coming to us and for providing your great light in our darkness.  Please help us to always know, love, and serve you, so that, through your love, we may be a light shining in the darkness.  Christ is born!  Hallellujah!

My Advent Playlist

Here are a few of the songs that I’ve put on my Advent playlist:

Future of Forestry’s version of Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel.  There’s something about the music that creates a sense of expectation. I find myself looking on the horizon for Jesus coming on a cloud.

Benedictines of St. Mary’s “Gabriel’s Message”.  I confess that when I first listened to samples of their CD, Advent at Ephesus, I felt that it was a bit too soprano for me.  But when I heard this song, I fell in love with it, and I like having at least one song on my playlist that was performed by these deeply spiritual women.  I’ll most likely add more next year.  The video below doesn’t include the song, but gives a lovely taste of their way of life.

I juxtaposed that song with Sting’s version of the same.  The video is a bit out there, but I can overlook that and just enjoy a modernized version of a beautiful song.

Charlotte Church’s “Ave Maria” from Dream a Dream.  The only thing that I don’t like about this song is that it isn’t long enough. I’d like it to go on for twenty minutes or so.  🙂

There are others, but since it’s the last day and a half of Advent I figure most people aren’t going to spend too much time or money downloading their playlist for next year!

Due to my technological idiocy, it took me a long time to create this playlist.  I finally got it together yesterday.  I hope that this post will save you the struggles I endured!

Paying Christ Homage – Advent Calendar/Jesse Tree Reflection for Dec. 23

Wow!  Hard to believe Christmas is only two days away!  Our Advent season has truly been a wonderful time of preparation, and I am really looking forward to Christmas day.  This is especially wonderful since last year I was so stressed out and overwhelmed that I just wanted the season to be OVER.

We’ve done lots of wonderful things to celebrate Advent.  Things like putting up the tree on the first day of Advent and adding purple fabric swaths for the season’s liturgical color, but holding off on ornaments until Christmas Eve.  Or listening to beautiful Advent (not Christmas!) music – I’ll post a few later.  We’ve really enjoyed the Jesse tree, though I confess that I never did finish making all of the ornaments for that, so we are “a few ornaments short of a Jesse tree.”  We’ve done all of the reflections, though, even if we did fall behind and have to play makeup a time or two, and it’s been wonderful to have the time to sit and snuggle with the kids while setting the stage for Christ’s coming.

I hope you have had a wonderful Advent as well, and that you will be able to slow down from all the craziness and enjoy these last two days of preparing our hearts for Christ!

Dec. 23 (Person – Magi, Symbol – Star or Candle)

“They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother.  They prostrated themselves and did him homage.  Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”

Read Matt 2:1-20

Reflection:  These three wise men from afar saw this young child, with his mother, in a humble home.  They laid down flat on the floor, and “did him homage,” which means “to publicly show honor and respect.”  Even though these men were much older and came from rich lands, they were wise… and so they recognized the greatness of this tiny little baby.  What can we do today to show Jesus honor and respect – to pay him homage?

There are so many things we can do!  Going to Mass and being quiet and respectful, spending time in adoration, praying – especially praying the Rosary…  Let’s be sure that we give Jesus all honor and respect every day, and especially in these last few days leading up to our celebration of his birth!

Let’s pray:  Dear sweet Jesus, we are so excited that Christmas is only two days away!  Please help us to remember to always honor and respect you, and to remember that Christmas is all about Christ.

Clinging to God the Father – Advent Calendar/Jesse Tree Reflection for Dec. 22

Well, friends, Jesus was right and the Mayans were wrong.  Surprise, surprise.

I awoke today – the first day of the rest of my life – with two wonderful epiphanies.  The first was, perhaps, not life-changing.  I was struck with an idea of how I could transform a gift that I’ve purchased for our dear family friends, taking it from “just another game that I hope they will play” to “a wonderful way to continue a great family tradition.”   I hope that they will be as excited as I am.  The second epiphany was an end to the writer’s block I was experiencing in regards to today’s reflection.  The first I hadn’t prayed about.  The second I had.  Thank you, God.

I knew there was a reason why I spent time in the blogosphere last night, and it turns out that it was to go to Little Catholic Bubble and see Fr. Barron’s thoughts on the Newtown tragedy, which you can watch here.  This provided the inspiration for today’s reflection:

Dec. 22 (Person – Joseph, Symbol – Carpenter’s square or hammer)

“She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Matt 1:21

Read Matt 1:18-25

Reflection:   God made the Holy Family complete by assigning Joseph as the adopted father of Jesus, and as protector of both Jesus and His mother, Mary.

Just as God gave the Holy Family a father and protector, he also gave his family on earth a father and protector – Himself, as God the Father.  God the Father will always look out for you and always love you.  You are his precious child.

Bad things will happen in life, just as they happened in the Bible.  We’ve read about the Joseph of the Old Testament being sold into slavery, about the Israelites spending four hundred years in miserable slavery in Egypt, where Pharaoh was killing each of their newborn sons.  We know that, later, the Israelites were forced from their promised land, and their cities destroyed.  The Bible does not pretend that bad things don’t happen.  But it teaches that, if we cling to God as our Rock, and to Jesus as our Savior, we will get through those difficult times.  Not on our own strength, but on the strength of God, our Father.

(Parents, if your children have experienced a loss, or if they are worried about the Newtown tragedy, you may choose to discuss these things in greater detail.)

Let us pray:  Dear Heavenly Father, you are my rock and my salvation, and your love endures forever.  When bad things happen – things that make me sad or worried – please help me to cling to you, my Father, and to Jesus, my Savior.  I know that, with you and Jesus, I will have peace, comfort, and joy.

Servants of God – Advent Calendar/Jesse Tree Reflection for Dec. 21

Dec. 21 (Person – Mary, Symbol – White Lily)

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.” Luke 1:38

Read Luke 1:26-38

Reflection:  Of all the people who ever lived – with the exception of Jesus, of course, who was both God and man – the Blessed Mother, Mary, is the one that we should look to for our example of how to live life.  Mary was created without sin. This means that she did not have the mark of sin that the rest of us were all born with, due to Adam and Eve’s first sin.  All her life, Mary loved God with all her heart, and never made a choice that wasn’t guided by this love.

So it makes sense to remember everything Mary said in the Bible, and to live by her words.  In today’s reading, she said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”  Do you know what it means to be a handmaid?  (pause for answers)  A handmaid is a female servant, who will do whatever job is asked of her.   Mary is God’s servant, willing to do whatever He asks her to do.  That’s exactly what each of us is called to do!  To be a servant of God, willing to do anything he asks.   What are some things that God might ask you to do?  (to love each other, to help around the house, to give to people who have less, to be kind, pray, read the Bible, etc)  Yes!  All of these are wonderful answers, and, as servants of God, we should always try to do these things!

Do you know when you are happiest in life?  It’s when you are doing what God asked you to do!  As you get older, God will also call you to be either single, married or a priest or religious sister.  It will be very important for you to listen to that call and follow it.  Not only will you serve God and the world as God wants you to serve, you will also be happy, because you’ve answered God’s call!

Let’s pray: Dear God, I know that I am happiest when I am serving you; please help me to always be your servant.  Help me to hear your call for my life, whether it be married or single life, the priesthood or religious life.  I am your servant.  May it be done to me according to your word.

Repentance and Reconciliation – Advent Calendar/Jesse Tree Reflection for Dec. 20

Dec. 20 (Person – John the Baptist, Symbol – Scallop Shell)

“I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.  I am not worthy to carry his sandals.  He will baptize with the holy Spirit and fire.”

Read: Luke 1:57-80; Matt 3:1-12

Baciccio, “The Preaching of St. John the Baptist” Courtesy of Web Gallery of Art

Reflection: John the Baptist told the people to “repent” in order to prepare for Christ’s coming.  Do you know what it means to repent?  To “repent” means to recognize our sins (our wrong choices), to tell God that we are sorry, and to ask Him to forgive us.

Remember when we talked about Adam and Eve?  We talked about how our sins separate us from God and prevent us from having a close relationship with Him.   We want to have the closest relationship with Him that we possibly can, right?   In fact, we want Jesus to be our best friend!   Our friendship with Him will always be strongest when we try not to sin.  When we do sin, it is important that we tell God we are sorry, ask Him to forgive us, and ask for His help to avoid sinning again.

As Catholics, we know that the season of Advent is an important time to do exactly as John the Baptist taught – to repent and make our hearts ready for Christ’s coming.   For those of us who are old enough, this is a very important time to participate in Reconciliation.  In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we speak to a priest, who is “in persona Christi,” which means that, in that moment, he becomes Christ for us, so that the priest can do for us what only Christ can do – forgive our sins.  This is such a wonderful sacrament!  Sometimes it is a little scary to tell our sins to another person, but then the priest says the words of absolution, “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”   With those words, we are restored to our close friendship with Jesus, and it feels fantastic!  (Parents, share your own feelings after receiving Reconciliation.  Mine go something like this: “My heart soars with joy, and I feel a huge weight lifted from my shoulders!”  Invite older children to share their experiences as well.)

You may not be old enough to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but all of us can repent.  Let’s think quietly for a moment about things we might have done that made God unhappy and hurt our friendship with Jesus.

Let’s pray: My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart.  In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things.  I firmly intend, with your help, to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid the things which lead me to sin.  Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us.  In His name, my God, have mercy.

Now, we promised to do penance, right?  That means to perform a prayer or good act to show that we are sorry for our sins.   Let’s pray an Our Father and a Hail Mary for our penance…

Christ in Us – Advent Calendar/Jesse Tree Reflection for Dec. 19

December 19 (Person – Elizabeth, Symbol – Mother and Child)

“Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb…. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Luke 1:42, 45

Read Luke 1:39-56

Reflection:  When she heard Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  She knew that Mary was the Mother of God, and that Mary’s child was the long-awaited Son of God.  She greeted Mary with the love and welcome that are fitting to someone who has God within her.

Through our baptism, each of us has the Holy Spirit within us.  When we let it, the Holy Spirit will guide us to love others and to always do what God wants us to do.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit that comes from the love of God and Christ, so when we received the Holy Spirit in baptism, we also received God and Christ.  This means that each of us has Christ inside of us!  But sometimes we forget that Christ is inside of us, and that He’s inside every baptized person around us.

Today, every time you look at a person, try to think, “He has Jesus inside of him.  I want to love him like I love Jesus.”  Of course, change that to she’s and her’s for a girl!  Let’s start by saying it for each person in the family: “Daddy has Jesus inside of him.  I want to love him like I love Jesus. Help me, Holy Spirit!” (Continue through each family member.  Larger families may choose to group two members at a time!)

Let’s pray:  Dear Holy Spirit, I know that you live inside of me and inside every baptized person.  Please help me to remember that Christ is inside every person, and to love them like I love Jesus, and like Jesus loves me.

The Value of Listening – Advent Calendar/Jesse Tree Reflection for Dec. 18

First, I must give a shout out to my oldest “baby”, Dude, whose ninth birthday is today!  Happy birthday, buddy!

It’s always amazing to me how the lessons we teach our children are so often lessons we need to learn ourselves.  Listening is not my strong suit, and I am looking forward to accepting my own challenge today, to “shut up and listen” for an hour.

This morning I will be having tea with a friend who is a great listener.  I always feel at the end of our meetings that I have totally commandeered the conversation, barely letting her get a word in edge wise.  She is a woman of great faith, wisdom, and peace, so I know I could learn a lot if I would just shut my mouth and encourage her to speak.  Of course, I will achieve this only through the grace of God, but with God all things – even Stephanie shutting up and listening – are possible! 🙂

Dec. 18 (Person – Zechariah, Symbol – Pencil and Tablet)

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited and brought redemption to his people.  He has raised up a horn for our salvation within the house of David his servant…” Luke 1:68-69

Read Luke 1:5-25, 1:57-80

Zechariah’s story is a great lesson in the value listening.  At first, when the angel came to him, Zechariah was quick to speak, and his words showed a lack of trust in God’s ability to do anything.  After that, he was unable to speak for over nine months.  Instead of talking, he listened.  He listened to what others said to him, unable to make a quick response with his own opinion and thoughts.  Since Mary came to stay with them for three months, he must have listened to many, many conversations between Mary and Elizabeth.  Just imagine what he must have heard between two righteous women, one of them the Mother of God!

We can see that Zechariah did learn a lot through listening, and that he grew in his belief in God during those nine months.  When his mouth was re-opened, the first words out of it were, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel!”

How many ears do you have?  How many mouths do you have?  God, in his perfect wisdom, did this for a reason!  We are meant to listen more than we speak!  When we listen, without busily trying to decide what we are going to say in response, we have an opportunity to learn from what others are saying.  When we are quick to speak, we lose that learning opportunity.  When we listen, we learn about the people around us – their thoughts and feelings, what’s going on in their lives, what makes them happy or sad… Through this listening and learning, we are better able to understand why they do the things they do and what their needs and wants are, and we are better able to serve them as Christ wants us to serve others.

For one hour today (or tomorrow, if you’re reading this late), try to listen intently to what others have to say.  Speak only when you absolutely have to.  Then, discuss with your family what you learned through listening.