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Archive for December, 2011

Merry Christmas

We wish you a bright and merry Christmas.

I love that we wish each other “merry” Christmas. More than just happy, but full of joy, peace, and goodwill as well. Wherever this Christmas finds you – with family, working, alone, with friends, or at the movie theater enjoying the short lines, we pray that you are full of comfort and joy.

Dona nobis pacem.

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I know how the innkeeper felt

For there was no room for them at the inn.

I know how the innkeeper felt.

We have vilified him throughout history. Uncaring, unsympathetic, willing to leave a pregnant mother and an anxious father out in the cold. Whether he was born in the spring or in the winter, nights are always cold when you have no place to go.

But I know how he felt.

It was a few days before I was to fly home for Christmas when my job at a housing facility for families transitioning out of homelessness called to ask if I could cover an emergency shift. It was a Saturday and my finals had wrapped up the day before. I brought my knitting, tuned the radio to Christmas carols, ate Hershey’s peppermint and white chocolate kisses, and awaited the arrival of Christmas. It was a Saturday, nothing ever happened on Saturday. Plus a soft snow had started falling that morning, confirming everyone’s desire to snuggle in bed rather than face the world outside.

I answered a few phone calls about where to drop off Christmas presents for the children and unlocked a few cabinets for people needing an extra skillet or some children’s tylenol, but other than that the morning was quiet. 

Until a man walked in.

He asked if they could stay there. His wife was sitting in the car right in front of my window, their newborn daughter wrapped in a large fleece blanket. They had lost their house a week or so before, and had nowhere to go. Neither had family nearby and they had heard we were a homeless shelter for families, could they stay there? They only needed a place to stay for a few days, you see, just until he could find work. It was snowing and their daughter was cold. They had no place to go.

I swallowed. We’re a transitional housing facility, I explained. If you sign up for an orientation session, we can put you on the waiting list. How long would it be? Anywhere from a few months to a year.

That wouldn’t work for them. I knew it wouldn’t.

You can try calling the YWCA or the police station. They can give out vouchers for families to stay at a motel. 

He had tried that. It was getting towards the end of the month, and they had passed out their allotment for the month. I knew they would’ve.

You can try calling churches. Some of churches have benevolence funds to help families in emergencies, although I knew that wouldn’t work either. Not only was it the end of the month, but it was very nearly the end of the year. Plus it was a Saturday, none would be open.

I’m sorry. I don’t know where you could go, I told them. 

There’s no shelter in town?

The only shelter doesn’t accept children. Adults only.

And we can’t stay here?

No, there is no room for you here.

He said he understood, thanked me for my help, and head hung, turned and walked away. I watched as he got in the car and told his wife the news. She turned her head out the window and stared blankly at me as they drove away.

And that is how a few days before the Christmas, I looked the Holy Family in the eyes and told them there was no room for them.

I know there is nothing I could have done differently, but I always wonder. Could I have called more agencies? Should I have written them a check? Let them stay in our one-bedroom apartment while we were out of town? I know these would have broken all sorts of rules and policies, but nevertheless I can’t shake the feeling that I  turned the Christ child away at Christmas.

There was no room for them.

There was no room for them in our entire town. No family shelter, no affordable home, no jobs to be had. We can make all sorts of excuses to justify these actions. There are policies, procedures that must be followed. They should have had a savings account or thought harder before bringing a child into this world, into their poverty. They should sell that car or move back home with family, nevermind there being even fewer jobs in the soon-to-be ghost towns of eastern Montana. It is not our fault, it is their’s and their’s alone.

I wonder what excuses the innkeeper came up with. Now, we sentimentalize the birth in the barn, farm animals keeping the Christ child warm and shepherds gazing peacefully on, a sign of Christ’s humility and simplistic poverty. But I doubt that’s the story that was told 2,000 years ago. They should have planned better, left a few days earlier. What ties had Joseph severed that prevented them from having family to stay with in the town of his birth? How could they have justified breaking and entering? It couldn’t have been long before they were discovered and asked to leave. 

There was no room for them.

I do not know what became of that family. I suspect they drove around for a few more hours until they had exhausted all possibilities. Maybe a church door was open and could give them money to have a place to stay, if only for a night. Perhaps they found a friend with an extra couch who was willing to give them a hand. I can imagine these, but I know they probably found a quiet parking lot and slept in their car, turning the engine on briefly every few hours to warm themselves.

I wonder if the old man and his wife with the swollen belly kept the innkeeper up that night. There were no empty rooms, he knew, but it felt like there should have been something he could have done. Cleared a place in the kitchen, or perhaps his wife would not have minded if they had stayed in their small room, at least until the baby was born. He knew by the looks of her it couldn’t been long. Perhaps he laid awake wondering what would become of that family, disappointed but understanding, and unbearably polite. Perhaps if they had offered him a few more coins he could have found the room, but he could see by the state of their well-worn cloaks that was not an option. What would happen to that child, born into such poverty? 

I know that logic would have won out and eventually he would have fallen asleep. The next morning he would have scanned the road, searching for the family with the old father and young mother and a tiny babe in their arms. He would have said a prayer or two for their safety, and then went on with his day.

I say this, because I know how the innkeeper felt.

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Lately I’ve been making our own laundry soap. Crazy, right? John’s been a good sport about indulging me in this venture and so I think we’ll keep it up for the near future.

The recipe:

1 cup washing soda
1 cup Borax
1 grated bar of ivory soap or fels naphtha.

Mix. Enjoy. I run it through the food processor to get the soap the same powdery consistency as the rest.

The result?

I can’t tell a difference between it and our old soap. We were using scent free gentle stuff before so it wasn’t a huge jump as it might be going from the regular stuff. It gets stuff clean and gets smells out which is good enough in my book. Other people might rhapsodize about how much softer it makes their clothes, but I don’t notice any difference like that. It works and is cheap, so it’s good enough for me!

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Most of you are probably pretty familiar with the concept of Advent, particularly in the form of calendars and little chocolate candies:

Advent Calendar

The Catholic Church recognizes “seasons,” or different times of the year where we focus on different spiritual elements. It gives a rhythm and flow to worship and mirrors the natural cadence of the world. A time to celebrate, a time to mourn, a time to reflect, a time to rest, a time to work, a time to enjoy.

The four weeks prior to Christmas are the season of Advent. While most of society recognizes this time as “Christmastime,” in the Church, Christmas and Advent are two separate things. The Christmas season extends from after Christmas to January 6th, or the feast of the Epiphany, thus the “Twelve Days of Christmas.” According to the USCCB, Advent has two main purposes:

The Advent season is a time of preparation that directs our hearts and minds to Christ’s second coming at the end of time and also to the anniversary of the Lord’s birth on Christmas.

So while in one respect it is the time for preparing for Christmas, it is mostly the time where we reflect on how Christ will come again. To be perfectly honest, that concept is too overwhelming/incomprehensible/frightening/foreign for me to spend too much time reflecting on. But the idea of waiting, preparing, hoping for something more, something better is one I can fully understand.

So how do Catholics recognize Advent? It will vary from family to family, but there are a few traditions.

Advent Wreath

Parishes and many families will light an advent wreath. One candle is lit every week (the pink candle is for the third week) until Christmas, at mass for parishes and during dinner for families. I searched high and low for purple and pink candles, and came up with none so we do not have an advent wreath this year.

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The Empty Manger

Another Advent tradition you might see is a nativity scene displayed sans baby Jesus. Probably because Catholics are such heathen Mary-worshipers that they totally forgot about “the reason for the season,” right? Actually, it is done to emphasize the idea of waiting for the Christ child to come. On Christmas Eve, Jesus is place in the nativity. Many households or churches do the same with the Three Kings, starting them far away from the nativity and slowly advancing the troupe until the twelfth day of Christmas.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

If you happen to find yourself in a Catholic parish during Advent, you might notice that they only sing one Christmas carol – O Come, O Come Emmanuel. The theme of Advent is anticipation, which is at the heart of this song.

Here’s something I just learned this year. There are actually seven verses to this song, each singing of a prophesy and title for the Messiah: O come, o come Emmanuel, O Wisdom, O Lord and Ruler, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Dawn of the East, O King of the Gentiles. These are known as the “O Antiphons” and are prayed through on Dec. 17th-Dec 23rd.

Of course there are the more common Christmas activities – decorating, baking, buying gifts, sending cards. But these are some of the things that make Advent its own unique season.

Does your faith tradition recognize Advent? How do you prepare for the Holidays?

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Life with IC isn’t easy, and unfortunately the holidays don’t make it any easier. Although I’m still relatively new to the world of IC, I thought I’d share my tips of how to get through with minimal stress, and I’d love hearing from more seasoned veterans as well!

Travel

Go easy on yourself with the travel. If you’re driving, don’t worry if you need to stop what seems like every other exit. Either warn your traveling companions ahead of time, or subtly turn up Perry Como every time he gets to,

Gee, the traffic is terrific! Oh there’s no place like home…

If you’re flying, choose an aisle seat. While I miss looking out the window, aisle seats reduce my stress level dramatically. No need to worry about climbing over someone who has fallen asleep every twenty minutes. Otherwise you might end up sitting beside someone who tells you as soon as you tuck away your bag that she just had a hip replacement and can’t stand up easily. True story.

If you’re like me, I can barely sleep when I’m on the road. Being out of my routine means that every little noise I could sleep through in my own bed suddenly wakes me up. And of course every time I wake up, I have to go to the bathroom. Which can mean going 12+ times in one night. You know; you’ve been there. Recently I started taking a sleeping pill when I travel which has worked for me. For you it might mean packing earplugs and an eye mask, or making time for ten hours of “sleep” instead of eight.

Food

It’s natural to associate Christmas with food – cookies for Santa, the goose getting fat, visions of sugar plums, gingerbread houses all around. And so when suddenly you can no longer have your favorite Christmas snacks (peppermint bark for me – nearly impossible to find without the chocolate; cranberry is what I miss most at Thanksgiving), it’s natural to be frustrated and depressed. Can you even open Christmas presents without a warm cup of coffee in your hands?

The good news is that there are plenty of IC-friendly alternatives that won’t leave you feeling too shortchanged. Peppermint, almonds, and white chocolate are all pleasure-savors for me. Here’s a few recipes to get you through:

White Chocolate Peppermint Cupcakes
Maple-Roasted Almonds (just follow the directions for roasting, skip the almond butter part)
Date Bread (substitute almonds for the pecans, and cut the amount of nuts in half. Beyond delicious)

I also highly recommend Safeway brand Hot (white) Chocolate. Definitely the best kind I’ve tried so far. Add a candy cane if you’re really feeling out there.

Make easy substitutions for your favorite recipes – chopped up dates instead of raisins, white chocolate instead of chocolate, almonds instead of pecans or walnuts, pears or apples instead of candied fruit,  a little extra cinnamon instead of cloves, garlic instead of cayenne.

In can be tough to eat when you are on the road or visiting friends and family. It can be exhausting to constantly ask for a run down of all ingredients of everything you put in your mouth. I usually try to bring my own food, which can be a problem when I fly home. Try packing some emergency granola bars and remember you can have your own feast when you get back.

Take it Easy

You won’t be able to do everything you used to. It’s a fact of life. While sitting through a two-hour mass maybe used to be the highlight of your year, you might find the hard pews torturous now. Walking around the neighborhood looking at lights might cause you shooting pains that you never had before. Getting up early with little ones on Christmas morning might be near impossible with your Elavil hangover. You might have to pass on the Yule log cake.  Life won’t be the same from here on out, and so Christmas won’t either. That doesn’t mean it has to be worse, but knowing that it will be a new experience will help ease disappointment.

Whatever this time of year means for you – end of the year reflection, family time, celebrating birth, lights, or long nights, take some time out to experience it. IC hurts – no one is denying that and no one is asking you to pretend like it doesn’t for a few weeks. Take some time to meditate, reflect, pray for yourself and others who are suffering.

Because at the end of the day, isn’t that what this time of year is all about? Not ignoring the hurt, but finding the little bit of light in the darkness.

How do you celebrate the holidays with or in spite of your IC? What are your favorite treats?

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Disclaimer: I am not trying to minimize the pain of the families who have to go through a funeral service with WBC right outside. Their actions are despicable, and I am trying to find a way to view them in a postive light.

Dear Westboro Batpist Church,

If you aren’t busy on the day that I die, I was wondering if you would please picket my funeral. I have no plans to die any time soon, and I hope to God that you are disbanded by the time I do, but on the off-chance I meet an untimely death or you are still active on this earth in 60+ years, I hope you will stop by.

Not because I want you there. I don’t. Well, really, I don’t care because I’ll be dead. But I hate the idea of you bothering my family and friends as they mourn their loss. Your colorful and hate-filled signs are more at place on internet-joke sites than at somber, faith-filled events such as funerals.

So while I’m sure my family would prefer to go without seeing  you at my funeral, I’d be honored if you attend. Not because of any choice you make (I couldn’t really care less about that), but hopefully about choices I make in my life.

You see, I hope I live a life that makes you angry. In my faith, we are called to be saints – people who follow Christ’s will, love the poor, help the disadvantaged, accept outcasts, fight for justice, spread the gift of God’s love.  And it seems to me that the people whose funerals you protest are ones that have done just that.

You have protested soldiers and others who have fought for freedom. Those who have died from injustices due to the hateful prejudices in this country. You have protested artists and religious leaders. You have protested victims of all sorts, from the Holocaust to tornadoes to senseless acts of violence.

I want to fight for these victims, and to do it so well that it makes you furious. I want to speak out for those you speak against, to love those you hate. I want to be a peacemaker, one who hungers and thirsts for justice, merciful, clean of heart, persecuted for justice’s sake.

I hope to honor God. And while this might take a long time, I want to learn to love you. To forgive you. But most of all, I want to forget you. I want to forget that we live in a world that practices so much hate in the name of a God that preached only love. I don’t want my children to forget, I want my children to never even have to know that world. I want them to read about you in history books and to not be able to comprehend a world with that type of hate and discrimination.

But if that doesn’t happen, and you decide to attend my funeral, I hope they welcome you with open arms as a sign of a life well lived.

Sincerely,

Jackie

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This is the third week of Advent, the one marked by the pretty pink candle on the wreath. That means this Sunday is known as Gaudete Sunday, which means “rejoice.”

As in, “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel….”

Advent is about not only waiting, but enjoying the wait. And so we decorate. But since we’re in grad school and try to live simply so we try to do it as cheap as possible.

And my goal (as is the goal of any good blogger) is to make me look awesome so you can secretly hate me.  Don’t worry though…my photography skills will always leave you feeling superior.

This is a dried apple wreath, which looks/sounds way harder than it was. I got a twig wreath from a thrift store for $2 (don’t you hate when people give directions for how to do/make something thrifty and the only reason it’s cheap is because they got something awesome at a thrift store that you’ll never find at a thrift store? Yup.), chopped up some apples and dried them in an oven and glued them to the wreath. Here’s way better directions. Though skip the cinnamon part because that makes them look dirty.

So my first venture into wreath making left me thirsting for more. So after a few hours of studying looking at Martha Stewart online, I found all sorts of fancy wreaths. Like one made out of glass ball ornaments. That we got from Goodwill. For about four bucks for all of them. Hate me yet?

So super easy, right? You read the directions – glue tops of ornaments to balls, shape wire hanger, string balls on hanger. Ta da? So  easy, right? Here’s what they don’t tell you.

1. Actually glue the tops of ornaments to the ball. Really. Because you’ll test the tops and they’ll feel fine so you’ll do the whole wreath and then half of the ornaments will snap off because when those little buggers hit up against each other they’ll twist right out of the their little wire hooks.

2. How to hang one of these. I used fishing wire and I’m sure it’ll come crashing down sometime in the middle of the night when I’ve forgotten I’d hung it on the other side of our bedroom wall. Your guess is as good as mine. I stuck a ball on top of the hook to make it look classy. Cause nothing says classy like goodwill ornaments on wood panelling.

I feel like these are too pinterest-y for me (the pics don’t do them justice). I had some organza ribbon left over from wreath 1, so I googled some things to do with organza. Basically to make these all you have to do is cut out some flower shapes from the organza and then wait for it…

wait for it…

hold it over a flame.

Yup. Crafts that involve fire are the best kind of crafts.

(P.S. I really hate “crafting” but my elbow still hurts too much for knitting. And also family – none of you are getting knitted present for Christmas).

Anyway, when you hold these little flowers over a flame they get all scrunch and crunchy and awesome. (And the organza ribbon was only $2.50.)

And this brings us lastly to our Christmas tree.

Last year we bought a little potted tree that didn’t fair to well when we visited my parents over break. We liked the idea of always having the tree from our first Christmas together, and so we thought we’d try again year two and just tell the story as if it was our first Christmas. This is a Norfolk Pine and apparently is less likely to die.

And dead Christmas decorations are definitely a kill-gaudete.

(See what  I did there?)

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I didn’t go to Virginia Tech

I didn’t go to Virginia Tech, but I still consider myself part Hokie.

Even though we lived 20 miles away, Blacksburg felt like our backyard. Girl Scout day camps, 4-H trips, school field trips, summer plays, those were all in Blacksburg. I went to church there, was confirmed there, dated a guy or two from there, and was (best of all) married there.

So no, I didn’t go to school there (although I did take one online meteorology class) but I cheered on Michael Vick and have been to Frank Beamer’s house when I was about 3 (he owned a couch like Peewee Herman). The decision to go there was nothing personal, and despite my parents’ belief had nothing to do with being too close to home but more the fact I wanted to study liberal arts and Tech was more, well, technical.

So I wasn’t there on April 16, 2007. I was in Williamsburg, just out of my French class and eating lunch with my friend whose fiance went there. My sister worked there. Almost everyone from my high school who went to college went there. My friends’ parents worked there. My friends from church were there. My life from home was pretty much there.

And so while I was hundreds of miles away, my heart was there. And yesterday was no different.

Somethings cannot be verbalized, the way your heart leaps up in your throat when you see suddenly see the words “shooting” and “Virginia Tech” all over the internet. And even though I wasn’t there, I felt like I was having flashbacks. The feeling of powerless. Of not knowing. Not knowing anything except that with almost everyone you’ve ever known being at Tech, that you will know someone who died. Of knowing no one around you can quite understand.

Of not being able to understand yourself.

 

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Every day (okay, almost every day) I go to work. And typically, I do my work and then come home. Occasionally I check Twitter too.

But I don’t sing Christmas carols at work.

I come home, hang a wreath on my door, put up our 2-3 Christmas decorations, light our advent wreath (okay if we had an advent wreath. Apparently no where in Missoula sells pink or purple candles), read my advent devotion, and call it good. In the next few weeks we will shop for the food bank, buy angel tree gifts, visit family, go to mass, pray, reflect, build snowmen, bake cookies and probably watch Love Actually.

This more or less goes on at home. Because that’s where my faith comes from. That’s where I was taught it, and where I will teach it. And while I may live it out in the world, I don’t need to get my nourishment there.

By the same logic, I don’t know how necessary it is to celebrate Christmas in schools. Although some people think so:

When we have our own little children (who might be going to Catholic school but for sake of the argument, let’s pretend  like we are subjecting them to public school like I was. Horror), we plan on teaching them in the same way. Really, Catholic school or not, my husband I expect to be the ones who will teach our children about their faith. We’re not going to rely on Christmas tree coloring pages or classroom sing alongs to teach them about the mysteries of Christmas. So if the school decides to forego those to respect those who aren’t in the majority, it’ll be fine.

Because we will teach them at home.

And really, even if you do strip away all celebrations of Christmas or any other holiday in schools, will it matter? Will Christmas still come?

If a Grinch can’t stop it, I don’t think heathen-liberals probably can either.

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The War on Xmas

I love the phrase “The War on Christmas.” It’s so absurdly inflammatory, contradictory to the very idea of Christmas (peace on earth, goodwill to men, even those men who disagree with you), and most of all implies some sort of need to play defense, which unless you do all your shopping on Black Friday also seems fairly un-Christmasy.

But what bugs me most of all about the “War on Christmas” is when people declare that any use of the term “Xmas” is an attempt to take Christ out of Christmas.

Cross him right out! We don’t need him! Bring on Santa (who is a Christian saint but that’s inconvenient to mention so we’ll ignore it)! And elves! Presents! General hedonism!

Off topic, but do you realize we are also trying to take the CROSS out of traffic! Hello! More war on Christianity! 

Anyway, if you’ve known me for 8+ years, you will know that my freshman year of college I thought taking intro to Ancient Greek was a really, really good idea. I was a religion major after all and needed a language credit.  I didn’t happen to realize that the Greek class offered was actually classical (Attic) Greek and not what is known as New Testament (Koine) Greek. Basically, Attic Greek is so absurdly hard that people had given up speaking it 2,000 years ago. Because it’s HORRIBLE. And I almost failed it. I didn’t – I got a proud C (my only C ever thankyouverymuch) but still. Take any Greek lessons I give you from here on out with a grain of salt.

Back to this war on Christmas and heathens’ desire to take the Christ out of Christmas.  Guess what? It ain’t so. “X” is not the crossing out of Christ, rather it is the Greek letter “Chi,” the first letter of Christ (Christos) in Greek. In the ancient church, Chi Rho (the first two letters) were often used as an abbreviation for Christ. Perhaps you’ve seen this around:

“Xmas” basically just means “Christ-mas,” perhaps an even better reminder that what we are celebrating is Christ. So rest easy, my friends, we can put down our battle axes for another day and fear not that we are losing in the war on Christmas.

Plus we will need to keep them extra sharp so we can chop down all those “holiday” trees in public buildings. Who do they think they are…

 

 

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