Friday, 28 December 2018

Changing My Christmas Wish List

When I was thirteen years old, my older sister got asked out for a Christmas dance held at our local parish. It was an exciting event for us all, with the first teenager of the family (she was 16) stepping into the new and unfamiliar world of going for dances, dates and romance in general. I still remember the young man coming to pick her up from my grandparents’ home where the rest of the family was doing the usual family Christmas. He wore a silver shirt, had an earring (yes, that was cool back in 1999) and brought her a bouquet of red roses with lady’s lace (that’s a kind of flower). We swooned, and I promised myself that one day I too would be asked out to a Christmas dance and it would just as dramatic and exciting. My post-school future seemed filled with potential.

Well, that never happened. When I was sixteen, no one asked me out, the guys in my life were either too shy to ask or were deterred by the fact that they couldn’t take a girl to a dance on a bicycle which was the only mode of transportation they had in junior college. I spent several Christmases sulking because I had still never got asked to a dance. Over the years, there was always something or the other to be disappointed by during Christmas. It was usually related to my social life, the parties that we organized or were invited to. The question was always – what are we doing for Christmas?

I remember the year that changed. The question came up again, and this time I thought - What about all the other people who don’t belong to the cool world of social events? What do THEY do for Christmas? Probably stay at home and feel left out too. That year I decided to organize my own party for people who didn’t have anything else to do for Christmas. It was fun! We played games, ate leftover Christmas lunch, and enjoyed each other’s company.

Maybe it was maturity. Maybe it was my deepening Christian faith. But I finally began to ask better questions, and desire better things. As long as I was chasing my own pleasure, I just couldn’t ‘get no satisfaction’. But joy is deeper than pleasure, and I began to find it when I asked for and expected different things.

Over this last decade of Christmases I have had many, many special moments of joy. But many of them were things I probably wouldn’t have imagined being enough when I was thirteen. I stopped going to parties for the most part, and hung out with family a lot more. I had cozy evenings in, sipping Bailey’s and watching movies. I had the joy of coming up with fun gifts for my family members, and the very, very special joy of seeing Christmas through my little nieces’ eyes. One year my sister and I became ‘Secret Angels’ who dropped off cookies at people’s homes without them seeing us.

This Christmas I invited over a few kids from the school I serve with to make Christmas sweets with me for their families since their mums are maids and are even busier during Christmas. On Christmas day I visited an Adoration chapel to spend time with the Birthday Boy. I spent time just hanging out with the people I love. This Christmas was extra special because I got to spend a lot of time with a new and important man in my life.

My Christmases have become slower and less glamorous, but richer and deeper. In Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis says “Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others.”

Some people already know this secret. I am still learning it. But it just takes that one moment when you step back and ask yourself – ‘What am I chasing? And is it really worth it?” Maybe we all need to make some changes to our Christmas wish list.

Related Reading 

Are You Going to a Christmas Dance?

Five Christmas Gifts- Stories of Hope

Eight Tips to Surviving Christmas

Christmas Highlights - 2013

7 Christmas Quick Takes - 2014

7 Christmas Quick Takes - 2015 

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

On Waiting

It is rare that I find a Christian who does not love reflecting and pondering on the topic of ‘waiting on the Lord’… usually while journaling and drinking a big cup of coffee. Or maybe that’s particularly an American Christian woman stereotype.

Anyway, the stereotype is based on a very real integral part of every person’s life – waiting and the need for hope. Over the past decade and a half, I’ve probably filled up many journals reflecting on this very topic. I assume if you search through my blog archives, you will find even more. But never more so than at Advent does this aspect rise to the surface. We relive and reflect on the hopes and dreams of the entire world, the ache for fulfilment, the longing for salvation through the centuries in these days. I wrote a little about it in my last post. I wanted to share just a few little insights and ponderings of my own heart.

- Waiting is not forever. Hope does not disappoint. We can get so used to waiting, we sometimes forget that it is not an end in itself. But Jesus came! God is here, close to the hearts of all those who seek Him. That is why waiting and hope and inextricable linked. We are called to wait with joyful anticipation. Let God surprise you! How often do we miss out on His surprises because we have stopped looking for them, our eyes are not lifted up to see them anymore. Don't stop expecting and don't stop asking.

- There are many different periods of waiting during our earthly lives. But look back – so many have been fulfilled! God came through SO many times. I often forget, because I’m looking at the next thing. ‘Remember the days you prayed for what you have now.’

 - Waiting is one of the most beautiful gifts God can give us, because it is an invitation to unite ourselves with the Giver, not the gift. It is perhaps not the easiest gift to receive, but that does not make it any less valuable. Looking back at over a decade of singleness, waiting to receive the gift of a husband and family, I realized I would not change it if I had a choice now, because in the struggle, in the questions, in the adventures, in the solitude… I found an intimacy with God, and a new strength and reliance on Him, that perhaps I would not have received any other way.

 - One of the beautiful gifts of waiting is solidarity with others who wait. Only women who have at some time time struggled with infertility can truly empathize and walk with those who carry that burden. I could preach from the rooftops about how ‘God alone is enough’ and how being single is not the end of the world, but my words have weight because I’ve lived that. I have had such deep and tender moments of shared burdens but shared hope with other single women. But it took both the experience, as well as the willingness to be vulnerable with others about the struggle.

- Waiting is a beautiful way to abide, instead of strive, to be receptive to what God is saying and doing, rather than to grasp at the things I think I need.

 - The key to waiting is trust. God is trustworthy. He will NOT disappoint you. He has NOT forgotten you. He will NOT deprive you. He will NEVER give you second-best. It is when we let trust die in our hearts, that waiting becomes tinged with bitterness, with cynicism, with despair.

- The surest way to rob waiting of its gifts is to start comparing your life with others'. That is taking on a suffering God has not asked you to bear. Comparison is a thief of joy. Your story is different from others'. Your waiting contains gifts they will not receive.

 - God alone really IS enough. I need to remind myself of that when I'm tempted to make the object of my waiting into an idol. He satisfies. Fulton Sheen writes, 'You begin to see that friendship, the joys of marriage, the thrill of possession, the sunset and the evening star, masterpieces of art and music, (...) the industries and comforts of life, are all gifts of God. He dropped them on the roadway of life, to remind you that if these are so beautiful, then what must be Beauty!' He is the One we are really waiting for, and He has promised us Himself.

- 'God is never late, but He is sure never early either.' That line from one of the recent Abiding Together podcasts struck me. God's gonna take His time. Settle back, and don't stress out. 'Lord, take your sweet, sweet time.' 

I pray today for all those of you who wait.

Related Links 

Waiting [Abiding Together Podcast] 

Loneliness and Longing - Bobby Angel

Discernment - Bobby Angel

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Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Hey, It’s Not Christmas Yet!

I promise I’m not trying to be the Grinch or Scrooge here, but I just want to hit a pause on the whole ‘Yay it’s December so let’s decorate our houses, start playing Christmas carols and spread the Christmas cheer!’ I’m all about Christmas cheer… but IT’S NOT CHRISTMAS YET!

So what, you say? I know it’s tempting, guys. Christmas can be magical, and who wants to miss out on some Christmas magic? This is what it comes down to – God wants to give you much, much more than mere Christmas cheer. And that’s why we have Advent.

I remember often thinking when I was younger, “Why do they keep saying we are preparing for the coming of Baby Jesus during Advent? Didn’t he already come as a baby a long time ago?” I was reminded by a friend a few days ago that the liturgical readings of the first three weeks of Advent focus on the Second Coming of Christ, and it’s only in the last week that we are commemorating the FIRST Coming when Jesus came as a baby.

When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Saviour's first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. CCC 524 

Advent is all about expectancy, waiting, and ardent desire.

We’re all waiting for something. For so many single people, it is a waiting for the right person to come along. For many young couples, it is a longing for a child. For some, it is a hunger for peace and reconciliation within their families, or a longing for freedom from anxiety, depression or addiction for themselves or for someone dear to them.

But deeper within those desires, there is a longing, a desire for fulfilment, a deep ache for something more. Advent is a chance to recognize that desire is really for Jesus, that our hearts are hungry for Him. But the beautiful, exciting thing is that HE IS COMING. Just as the world waited in darkness for the coming of the dawn for centuries before Jesus arrived as a baby in an unknown corner of the world, He has PROMISED He will return, and that He will bring salvation to all those who desire it. He will wipe away every tear, He will right every wrong, He will satisfy every desire of your heart. 

Take heart, my friends! Lift your eyes and see – HE IS COMING! The Second Coming is the end of the world, and we do need to be ready. But for many of us, it may be our own deaths that may come first, and that we need to prepare our hearts for. But there is another coming – the daily coming of Christ. Heaven starts here on earth, if only we desire it enough. ‘God is always trying to give us good things, but our hands are too full to receive them' said Saint Augustine. Which is why we have Advent. We need to stretch our hearts to make room for heaven. We need to empty our hands and open them before God. In a world of instant gratification, we need to consciously choose to embrace the waiting, even when it is tinged with pain.

How can we embrace Advent? I know it’s not much time left, but here’s your chance to redeem the next week

1. Set aside time every day to visit an Adoration chapel. Bring the deepest longings and desires of your heart to Jesus, and just sit with Him in the waiting.

2. Put away your Christmas music and fill your home with Advent music. What’s Advent music? Any music that focuses on waiting, on expectation, on the coming of Christ.

3. Make an Advent wreath, light a candle every night, and read the liturgical readings. Or pray the Divine Office. The riches and wisdom of the Church shine through the Divine Office.

4. Listen to an Abiding Together podcast every day. I suggest these ones:

5. Pick one personal act of love to do every day until Christmas:

  • Write a letter to a friend 
  • Pack a few groceries and find someone to give it to 
  • Send an affirming or encouraging text to someone who needs it 
  • Hug your family members and tell them you love them 
  • Forgive someone who has hurt you 
  • Drop in and visit an old relative 

I pray all you have an Advent that allows you to receive more fully the JOY of Christmas. I will be working on some of these things too. Let me know how it goes!

Related Reading and More Advent Song Lists 

Favorite Catholic Advent Songs

10 Advent Songs To Cure the Christmas Craziness 

Eight Tips to Surviving Christmas

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

What Women REALLY Want

Women gossiping in a tailor's shop
Die Gartenlaube (1880) via Wikimedia Commons

I recently got into a discussion about what women find attractive and lovable in a man versus what men think a woman finds attractive in a man. It seems as if many guys think that being a 'manly man' is more attractive than sweetness and kindness. So of course I did what any girl would do to prove a point - I sent out a poll to all my women friends to ask them what they thought.

This was how I phrased the question.

Which of these traits are most likely to cause you to fall in love with a guy?

A] Playfulness (Flirtatiousness and light-heartedness)

B] Manliness (Physical strength and confidence)

C] Sweetness (Protectiveness and tenderness)

D] Wealth (Expensive gifts and exciting date activities)

Though there were different opinions from different women, the majority seemed to agree that a mixture of B and C (confidence and tenderness) was the winning combination. But there were many other traits that my friends told me were important to them too.

So guys, in case you were wondering, here is what women really value:

1. Sweetness: Not mere romantic gestures, and sentimental platitudes, but a real tenderness in the way you look out for the woman you love. It needs to be a special sweetness just for her, more than chivalry, or kindness, definitely not condescending or more about you than her (look at what a good guy I am/you can't look after yourself so I will). It manifests itself in many little ways. But though there are many attractive qualities women notice in men, it is tenderness that wins our hearts, and allows us to trust.

2. Confidence: Please don't be cocky, or arrogant. That has never been attractive. Humility and confidence can go hand in hand. No matter what you look like, how much money you have, or where you stand on the social status scale, if you have confidence when you go a-wooing, women will give you a second look. But this confidence comes from a deep place of knowing your identity in Christ, being aware of your flaws, but knowing you are more than that, and you DO have something to offer - a heart full of love.

3. Playfulness: 'Creativity is intelligence having fun.' There is something about a man who doesn't take himself too seriously that is very attractive. Romance needs fun more than it needs intensity. And when you're growing old, or facing crises together, it helps to have someone who knows how to make you laugh... or knows how to find the humour in any situation. I once asked an older married couple for marriage tips, and they said what helped them the most was that they learned to laugh when things went wrong instead of making everything into a big deal. Disclaimer: playful doesn't mean never taking anything seriously.

4. The way he treats people: When we see men who are genuinely kind to people when they think no one is watching, we know we've met a keeper. Do you greet maids, or chat with street sellers? Or are you too important or self-absorbed to do so? Do you offer to give a ride to anyone who needs it, or are your selfless acts reserved for girls you're trying to impress? Do you notice beggars on the street? Do you play and chat with children or treat them like they are a nuisance or invisible? Are you patient when your family members make demands on you, or rude or short-tempered? It all adds up.

5. Integrity: Do you do what is right even when it costs you? I hate the idea that women are supposed to be the upholders of morality and convert the men they marry into reluctant paragons. Women are looking for men who value the truth, and are willing to stand up for it. 'Is it right?' should always be a higher priority than 'Is it convenient?'

6. Maturity: I know that this may be a tough one to evaluate yourself on, because it's always easier to see immaturity in others than in oneself. But here are some questions that may help. Do you sulk when you don't get your way? Do you insist you're right long after you've been proved to be wrong? Are you able to apologize when called out on bad behaviour? Or do you just try to move on without acknowledging it? When is the last time you apologized sincerely to someone? Are you able to take or make lighthearted jokes at your own expense?

7. Love for God: For those of us who are disciples, we're looking not just for 'religious' or 'god-fearing' men. We're looking for men who KNOW God and LOVE God. If you want to be able to love a woman well, you need to be in contact with the Source of all love, the original and best Lover of our souls. That comes down to men who prioritize personal prayer and scripture reading, who are able to easily talk about what God has been saying to them.

8. Aware of people's needs: Men are notorious for being oblivious to the needs of the people around them. Not all men are like that, but enough are that this may need to be said - if you see the people around you bustling around doing things while you sit and chat or read a newspaper or scroll through your phone, maybe you need to stop and ask, "Is there anything I can do to help?" When in doubt, start washing dishes. If you see someone crying or visibly upset, ask "Is something wrong?" You don't have to solve all the problems, just show that you care and are available to help if you can. (Side note to women, you also need to communicate your needs without resentment that he 'should have noticed'.)

9. Sincerity: Say what you mean, and mean what you say. Don't flirt with women unless you have a real intention of pursuing her. Don't play games, or try to manipulate us. Ugh. We hate that. Be real! Authenticity is so much needed in the world today. If you mess up, don't cover up, but share about it honestly. If you want to move on, talk to the woman honestly about it. Have the 'define the relationship' talk sooner rather than later. If you're not sure where a woman is, ask her. Don't pay compliments that you don't mean. Don't say things just because you think we want to hear it. And don't be afraid to have difficult conversations when necessary.

10. Optimism: A lot of us struggle with negativity and self-doubt. What a gift to have someone who sees and calls out the good within us and in the world around us. What a gift when we can see all the beautiful potential in the future, not just all the potential pitfalls. 'What if I fail?' Oh but my darling, what if you fly?' We need encouragers, optimists, people who speak LIFE. Don't let the darkness consume you. Stop obsessing about the pitiful state of our country, how corrupt everyone is, and start talking about the beautiful encounter you had yesterday, the signs of hope you noticed, and the ways you can together bring light to the world. Optimism is attractive.

You may have noticed that most of these traits could just as easily be applied to women. So women, you may need to work on this stuff too, and not just wait for a man to show up to make up for all your lacks. Be the kind of woman who a man like this would want to marry. And you know, whether you're single or married, these are just marks of the kind of human being I would want to have in my life. (And I actually have many humans like this in my life. Yay for friends!)

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