Advent By Candlelight

Christmas decorations came out the day after Halloween in the local retail stores.  Every year I kind of sigh in disappointment as it becomes obvious how much Christmas has become so commercial.  The reason for the season seems to get lost a little more every time a sale ad comes out.  The Christmas season begins November 1st and ends December 26th instead of beginning December 25th and ending January 6th.  Advent becomes a shopping countdown and about pulling chocolate out of a pop-up calendar, and Christmas becomes about cookies and lights.  I'm not saying any of it is bad or wrong...ok, yes I am...wrong for us to focus ONLY on those superficial things.  We want to make sure that we can instill in our children the great anticipation of the birth of Christ during Advent and the celebration of His coming to save us all for more than just one day in addition to the tremendous joy brought by decorations and presents and festive foods and traditions. 

This year more than ever before, I have an intense desire to really prepare my heart for Christmas during Advent.  There are so many ways to do so and rather than become overwhelmed with all the possibilities, we decided to try having "Advent angels" amongst the kids and to step up our prayers and offerings.  Each one of the six older kids drew names to see who they would secretly pray for and offer kind gestures.  I had prayed for help to open my heart during this season and find a way that would encourage my Advent "goals" of prayer and sacrifice. 
Prayer is so great! Within days, an invitation was extended to attend a women's Advent dinner event...attached to a road trip and slumber party no less! Yipee!
Giddy as I was about a mini retreat with girlfriends, it is so hard to leave my family.  Crazy, I know, because on a daily basis, I'm sure I'm looking for a little reprive, but it is my job to care for them...including my it's hard not to feel like it is necessary to plan meals, lay out clothes, write out a detailed schedule and even provide medical information--dosages of meds for 'just-in-case' circumstances.  Well, I did none of that, so I was feeling a little overwhelmed, like it would be easier not to go.  Fortuneately, I talked myself out of that, so Saturday afternoon, off we all went, to small-town Kansas. 

Seven moms, three infants, two cars and a few hours later, we all arrived at the childhood home of two of the women, Lindsay and Kristen.  Their remarkable and hospitable mother, Damaris, met us at the door and her kitchen greeted us with the aroma of the meal that was waiting for us.  As we unpacked gifts for our amazing hostess, ate and chatted, we were officially away from our normal and comfortably 'on retreat'.  Before we retired for the night, we made a visit to a breath-takinginly beautiful St. John the Baptist church and sat in the quiet and candle-lit darkness with Jesus and each other.  By the time we returned to the house, it was late and we all went to bed.  It must be noted that I fell asleep immediately and slept like a rock...until 8:45 am!  Wow...refreshing!  That has not happened for years!!  :)

Sunday morning, we all went to church together...even more beautiful in the daylight than it was the night before, and returned to the house to prepare and eat brunch together, sip coffee, and linger around the dining table the rest of the morning and afternoon, engaged in encouraging conversation.

 Damaris is mother to ten children...and five of them, plus one spouse and two (plus one still in progress) were there for breakfast. That may have been one of the best highlights...just the vision of the possibilities ahead for our family as they continue to grow up. The beauty of this amazing holy family...We truly did ask tons of questions to our most wise and experienced hostess. "Pray...lots", in addition to all kinds of other very encouraging bits of advice and much humor.

The day proceeded leisurely and then we set out to the school gymnasium where the main event was to take place. 


Table after table carefully decorated to welcome each guest for dinner, fabulous food--an upscale potluck for the most part--and Fr. Courtney to speak to us about being on fire for the King.

  If anyone could ignite the flame, this passionate man of God certainly has that gift!  Wrap up the entire weekend of food, friends, conversation and time in addition to returning home energized to a family that missed me and whom I missed, and it was the perfect Advent aide to prepare for our Lord. 

Next year is already marked on the calendar.