Sunday, December 17, 2017

How We Connect Wise Men, Acts of Kindness, and Reflection

Rejoice!  It is Guadete and Bambinelli Sunday.  In just one week, the joyful anticipation of this Advent season will make way for the celebration of Christ's coming!

The Lord, indeed, is near, and, thus, our call to use our hearts, heads, and hands to prepare to encounter Christ continues.  Of course, partaking in the sacraments is one of the best ways to do so.  Thus, my family as enjoyed extra time at Mass, Reconciliation, and Adoration over the past week, thanks, in part, to a wonderful Advent Mission our parish collaborative offered.

Another way my family seeks to keep God central in our lives is to consciously share acts of love and service with the help of our ever-simplified Works of Mercy Wise Men tradition. In case you, too, would like to connect acts of kindness, with seasonal stories, then, I thought I'd share more of what our Works of Mercy Wise Men have inspired us to partake in this past week.

{Disclosure: Some links which follow are affiliate ones.  Should you click through them to make any purchase, we may receive compensation at no extra cost to you.}

Between last Sunday and Monday, we managed to lose one of the Wise Men from our Tales of Glory Nativity Playset as they continued to 
get into stories, sometimes with other items nearby. That has not stopped us from chatting about stories and deciding what Work of Mercy or virtue we might work on for a given day.

On the ninth day of Advent, the children found our Wise Men atop Mt. Laundry with Why Christmas Trees Aren't Perfect.  After chatting, we decided the message for our day was to accept imperfections and to seek to help others in whatever ways we could so that we might see "the love of Christ expressed on earth" in one another, remembering that "living for the sake of others makes us most beautiful on the eyes of God" (quotes from the story.) Part of our effort to live this mission for the day was to lend a hand and patience to one another getting through chores (like the laundry!) and lessons.

We also gave each other - including Mom and Dad - "assignments", such as "not going on and on", "focusing when it is time to focus,", "being kind and self-controlled even when tired,", "not arguing,", "sharing smiles not scowls."

Finally, we looked for opportunities to serve in simple ways - happily sharing time with a student and friend when her parent was late picking her up after a class, stopping by someone's house to make sure he had been able to get out for groceries despite recent snow and rain, that sort of thing.

As we reflected on the day, we continued to ponder the question:  How might we live for the sake of others this Advent and always?

The tenth day of Advent was also a significant feast day - that of Our Lady of Guadalupe, so our Wise Men greeted us near a small bag of items to donate at My Brother's Keeper, a bunch of feast day reading, watching, and listening, and a lovely book called The Three Gifts of Christmas which reminds us of the truth: "It is more blessed to give than to receive."  With this in mind, we headed off to volunteer for the day.

As a family, we read the wish lists of different needy families...

... "shopped" for gifts that we thought would bless the families...

... and thoroughly enjoyed spending many happy hours s
erving at Santa's Workshop at My Brother's Keepera FABULOUS organization that we highly recommend supporting and/or volunteering for! 

Later on, the children and I also made time to visit an elderly gentleman who lives nearby to us before going to participate in a lovely Advent mission Mass and collation.

As the day closed, our hearts remained full and happy and we reflected: 
How might we continue to offer time, talent, treasure and prayers this Advent?

The eleventh day of Advent was also St. Lucia's feast day. Since Around the Year Once Upon a Time Saints book with a St. Lucy story was till in the minivan where I had placed it the day before so we could read the preceding Our Lady of Guadalupe story during a down moment between events, our Wise Men instead found themselves with our straw "manger", "straw", a book called Marta and the Manger Straw, along with slips of paper that had each of our family member's names on them.

The connection?  St. Lucia is patron to the blind and legend has it that she delivered wheat and bread to the poor and homebound as well as to Christians staying in the catacombs. She did the latter under cover of darkness of night to avoid detection and so would carry a lamp or wear a crown of candles to light her way while freeing her hands to carry supplies. Since her name means "light", in honor of her feast day, our Wise Men and the book "
Marta and the Manger Straw reminded us to make sacrifices to be the light of Christ to others. They also reminded us it was time to pick our family Christkindl, by secretly drawing slips of paper with one another's names on them to discover who we'll take under special care for the rest of the season, doing extra kindnesses for. 

Of course, after that, much of the day involved finding opportunities to extend such kindnesses, and as the day ended, we reflected: 
How might we continue to light the way for others, sharing Christ's love?

The twelfth day of Advent was Saint John of the Cross' feast day, so one Wise Man was found reading the "Saint John of the Cross" page of 
Saints Lives & Illuminations while another read The Small One.  Upon reading these stories, our thoughts went to how St. John of the Cross endured such hardships, yet maintained his faith and became a Doctor of the Church. We also chatted about how the boy in The Small One protected his donkey by ensuring he was placed with kind owners even when the boy was forced to sell him.  We decided our mission for the day would be to endure our own hardships with strength, and to, perhaps, get together some things we no longer needed to gift forward to good homes. 

We never got to the latter part of our goal as the morning found us enduring a long drive through snow to get to a commitment and, by the time we were headed home from our day, my youngest - who had been enduring signs of what we all thought was just tiredness - began indicated he was suddenly feeling quite unwell.  Poor little guy!  Luckily, his siblings stepped right up to bat with helping to care for the sick, and, so the night proved one of extended kindness and love even if no excess was sorted through to gift forward.

As we went to bed that night, we reflected:  How can we adapt our plans to whatever comes up, finding ways to extend love and live with faith in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in?

On the thirteenth day of Advent, snow still covered our yard, so the Wise Men got into our birdseed bin with a new to use book called The Message of the Birds.  Obviously, they were telling us to go out to feed our feathered friends, which we did.  The book also reminded us of the Christ child and of the need for peace in the world.

That concept of peace took a twist in our home as another child came down with a bug and stayed cheerful even if not feeling well at all while the rest of us took turns nursing and letting her rest.  Yes, sometimes, the Works of Mercy we are called to are simple ones in our own home - taking care of those close to us.

As we closed the day, our reflection became:  How might we act and react to the people and situations around us each day to share the love of Christ and promote peace?

On this, the fourteenth day of Advent, everyone in our home was again feeling healthy again - praise God - and we knew it was Guadete ("Rejoice!) Sunday - the Sunday that marks how we are to celebrating our Lord's coming, Bambinelli Sunday - the Sunday when Baby Jesus figurines are blessed, and also our family's personal "Tree Sunday" - the Sunday our family traditionally picks out a Christmas tree.  So, one Wise Man was found with Bambinelli Sunday: A Christmas Blessing and another was found with The Pine Tree Parable. Nearby were wrapped Baby Jesus figurines from our nativity sets.  Thus, we brought our Baby Jesus' to church and, after Mass, asked the visiting priest who presided to bless them. (And what a beautiful blessing spontaneous blessing he offered!)  Then, later, we went to pick out our tree, which we will decorate on the 24th - holding off on "Christmas" as long as we can so as to honor the season of Advent.

We also noted how in both Bambinelli Sunday: A Christmas Blessing and the The Pine Tree Parable, characters give away items that are important to them, recognizing the beauty of bringing joy to others.  Thus, we aimed to share joy with one another on this Holy Day and took time to name parts of the day we had been blessed by as well as examples of when we saw others shining with the light of Christ's love.

As we go to bed tonight, we will reflect: Our Lord is near and His love is everywhere.  When we choose, we can extend Christ's love to one another?  How might we do that in big ways and in small as Advent continues and even after that?

Undoubtedly, as Advent winds down this week, my children and I will continue to read books that inspire acts of kindness and reflective moments.  We also would love to find new seasonal stories to carry us through Christmastide.  We'd love to hear what your favorites are!

If you'd like to read about our other Works of Mercy Wise Men ideas, please click through the images below to find some of our some past ideas.

May your final week of Advent be filled with service and special moments as you prepare yourself to encounter Jesus - past, present, and future - and rejoice that the Lord is near!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Inspire Children to Serve with Picture Books {A Works of Mercy Wise Men Tradition}

Happy second week of Advent. 

Three years ago, I shared an idea for marrying picture books, magi figurines, and service to create a new family tradition

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Since then, our "Works of Mercy Wisemen" tradition has continued.  Daily during Advent, my children find the Wise Men from our Tales of Glory Nativity Playset 
getting into stories, sometimes with other items nearby.  After the children discover a Wise Men vignette each day, we chat about the story and what Work of Mercy or virtue the Wise Men might be suggesting we work on that day.  

So far this year, our vignettes have been quite simple and our acts of service and kindness, too.  Still, the tradition has brought fruit and focus to living our Advent journey with eyes toward encountering Jesus.

Pair 8+ Books with Works of Mercy

On the first day of Advent our Wise Men were found among three books: Bartholomew's PassageThe Christmas Story, and If He Had not Come.   Minutes later, the Wise Men "whispered" in ears about how we could actively prepare our hearts for Our Lord through action.  

Among the ideas we came up with were:

  • Praying for the Living and the Dead: Inspired by If He Had not Come, we thought about how different the world is because Jesus did come and also because of the people He's put in our lives.  We decided we will spend extra time praying for the living and the dead this Advent and, as a part of that, continued our St. Andrew Novena with special intentions for specific people.

  • Preparing Ourselves to Instruct the Ignorant:  We cannot share the good news of Christ if we do not deepen our knowledge of and love for Jesus.  So, we decided to re-read The Christmas Story (which we know well) as a way of centering ourselves on the reason for the season and, then, reflected briefly on the beauty and meaning of Jesus' birth.

    We also went out to find a tree branch to act as our Jesse Tree and asked our Lord to speak to us through the stories and scripture that we read as we hang each of our Jesse Tree ornaments so that we can share Salvation History well with others when we are called to do so.  
    Further, as we gathered for our Advent Wreath time and began reading Bartholomew's Passage, we took time to reflect and pray.

  • Clothing the Naked:  Additionally, we decided to take bags of our out-sized and excess mittens, gloves, and winter wear to donate for those in need.

On the second day of Advent, our Works of Mercy Wise Men were found reading the St. Nicholas page of Saints Lives & Illuminations and getting into cough drops.

Since the children knew we were to attend an early St. Nicholas Party and Service event, they decided our Wise Men were telling us to
feed the hungry and clothe the naked.

Recalling St. Nicholas' generous spirit, we joined friend to stuff wool socks and warm gloves full of sundry daily supplies (toothbrushes toothpaste, tissues, cough drops, floss sticks, and more) to be given to homeless people in our area. The children enjoyed this small service project and I encourage others looking for a service activity to try it.

On the third day of Advent, the children found our Works of Mercy Wise Men among a bunch of laundered, but old towels, reading The Puppy Who Wanted a Boy.  After chatting, they decided we should help shelter the homeless (animals) by donating the towels to a local animal shelter.  Thus, we rearranged our morning plans to go do so. It didn't take very long, but, hopefully will bless some dogs waiting adoption.

On the fourth day of Advent, our Wise Men were getting into a bag of candy cane packages next to some bread and 
the St. Nicholas page of Saints Lives & Illuminations again (because I had yet to get any of the other St. Nicholas books we've read in the past out of the library again, such as: Saint Nicholas, A Gift from Saint NicholasThe Legend of St. Nicholas: A Story of Christmas GivingThe Legend of Saint Nicholas, and The Legend of Saint Nicholas.

The children quickly decided to
feed the hungry, instruct the ignorant, and comfort the afflicted by making a small secret St. Nicholas Basket to drop on a neighbor's doorstep...

... and also by secretly "candy caning" people who are suffering from infirmity or limitations of advanced age as well as those who may or may not know much about Jesus.

On the fifth day of Advent, our Wise Men were stacked up to read the Saint Ambrose pages of Once Upon a Time Saints the the Loyola Kids Book of Saints (which I just saw is currently selling for 60% off hardcover!), focusing particularly on the words "something hard".

As we though about how St. Ambrose was known for doing hard things, even when surprising turns of life arose, we decided to admonish sinners in a way, by doing something "hard" for us - staying home all day and night and spending extra time focusing on responsibilities we might fail to focus on at times: lessons, extra chores, remaining patient with one another, spending extra time in prayer.

On the sixth day of Advent, our Wise Men were reading Mary, the Mother of Jesus for the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and we decided, again, to pray for the living and the dead,focusing on our usual morning, mealtime, and evening prayers, plus adding midday "emergency" prayer for a friend, and prayers for others whose intentions we brought to Holy Hour with Divine Mercy and Mass.  Further, as we thought about how Our Lady was conceived without stain of sin and how we are washed clean of sin with our Baptisms, but, then, sin again in our humanity, we gave thanks for the gift of mercy offered each of us and prayed for grace to pour down on everyone.

On the seventh day of Advent, our Wise Men were reading a board book called One Baby Jesus with a pageant script nearby.  The children agreed we should "instruct the ignorant", or, rather, prepare to share our Lord's birth story, by taking time to rehearse for our parish pageant.  We also continued to pray for the living and the dead by praying with our local Children's Rosary group.

Today, on the eighth day of Advent, our Wise Men sat with some gifts for our parish Giving Tree and the book The Christmas Coat.  Thus, the children knew it was time to
clothe the naked again by donating items for children in need.

As Advent continues over the next two weeks, my children and I look forward to our Wise Men encouraging us to revisit other favorite seasonal reads and to find new ones which will inspire further Works of Mercy.  We welcome your suggestions for inspiring picture books and seasonal saint stories.  Please share your favorites with me.

If you'd like to find other picture book-service ideas, please click through the image below to find some of our some past ideas.

May your Advent be filled with service and special moments as you prepare yourself to encounter Jesus - past, present, and future.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

When Preparing to Prepare Pays Off...

A season of joyful waiting
      of (sometimes) quiet anticipation
               of prayer
                         of penance
                                    and of preparation 
  as we ready our hearts and homes to celebrate 
       the commemoration of Jesus' arrival in the manger 
       in Bethlehem
               His coming again at some point in the future
                          and our every day opportunities 
                          to embrace encounters with Him 
                          in our interactions with others 
                          and as recipients of immeasurably grace.

Last night before bed I readied our home for this beautiful liturgical season by cleaning and organizing parts of our house before setting out supplies for some of our family's Advent traditions. 

Then, today, as my children delighted in each tradition, I smiled with gratitude and joy.  My efforts to prepare paid off with warm memories in the making that focused us on faith.

Among other things, a basket of instruments...

...had us ringing in the New Liturgical Year!

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Our Nativity Playset...

...brought squeals of "I remember that..." and immediate unfolding of play.

Our Advent Chains...

...enticed eager hands to begin our Christmas countdown, and, later, inspired all of our hands to set to writing out notes for our first Advent Chain Work of Mercy for this season and to fixing food for one another. 

And, yes, this year we do have TWO Advent Chains, because one child wanted to create a personal mini-one.

I am all for self-starters who seek to spread more love and kindness while preparing for coming of Christ.

A table set for the first day of the Liturgical New Year prompted the children to begin filling "Jesus' manger" with hay when they made small sacrifices.  It also invited them to offer coins for a local Respect Life concern.  (We no longer Count, Pray, and Give with the annual Baby Bottle campaign, since the children have grown out of that, but we still eagerly do the giving.  In fact, the children were excited this past Friday after Holy Hour and Mass to see the baby bottles out and could not wait to take one home!)

Because it is not Christmas yet, many of our nativity sets are not in their full glory  Instead, on our table Joseph was sleep "at home" and Mary was hearing God's plan from the angel Gabriel.  This reminded the children of Bible history and also prompted them to remember our Star from Afar, which we use a little differently. Thus, throughout the day, they kept their eyes pealed for the star among a mess that we could fix.

My daughter found it and is eager to have us all clean where it was tomorrow so she can re-hide the star in another part of our home that needs help.  (There are plenty of those!)

The living room table, thankfully, is not one of them.  Instead, last night, I cleaned it and, then, set supplies on it.  So, this morning the children were excited to discover our Works of Mercy Wisemen back in action there reading not one, but THREE books to inspire us.

Minutes later, the Wise Men were "whispering" in ears about how we could actively prepare our hearts for Our Lord through action today, remembering The Christmas Story and thinking about what the world would be like If He Had not Come

The books also offered us a cozy read together time later in the day.

In afternoon, spotting our Advent Wreath with a Jesse Tree ornament inside reminded the children we still needed a branch to serve as our Jesse Tree.

So out into the woods we went to find one...

Later, after reading related Old and new Testament verses for the day, as well as the book Genesis, my youngest hung our first ornament.

He was also thrilled to have it be his turn to light the Advent wreath.

And I was equally delighted with the rapt attention and occasional laughter our first candlelight reading from Bartholomew's Passage brought.

Read togethers, our St. Andrew Novena, our Jesse Tree, Advent Wreath time, and bedtime blessings sure made a beautifully blessed close to our day for the children and me.

Now, before my own bedtime as I reflect on our day, I think about how much faith, fun, and family time were shared due to relatively simple preparations in our home.  I also imagine how much more amazing the results of preparing our hearts will be.

Already, blessings and grace are apparent in this life - some causing us to literally sing out with joy.  Envision how much more abundant they may be one day if we stand in Our Lord's presence in Heaven.  It's almost impossible to conceive the rapture.

Truly, if preparing some things around the house brings moments of joy, peace, and prayer to the present, imagine what preparing our hearts can do for eternity?

May each of our preparations this season pay off in joy here as a foretaste to triumph that awaits us if we keep welcoming Jesus into our hearts and extending His love to those around us.


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