Bringing Our Best

As we continue to move closer to Christmas, I find that more and more of our focus turns toward Mary. This makes sense in many ways, she is the Theotokos, the God-bearer. Her “yes” to God’s plan is one of the main reasons we are all here, all waiting the blessed day of our Savior’s birth. However, I happen to be in a unique season of life that has me thinking a lot about St. Joseph and the sacrifices he had to make in this adventure.

We are a military family and as it happens, the military has planned for us to transition to a new state in the early weeks of January. Our holiday season has already looked a lot different (even outside of the coronavirus limitations and sacrifices). We don’t have a Christmas tree this year, we have really only put up Advent decorations and minimal Christmas ones. We have had to ask our family to refrain from sending their gifts until after we move so that we don’t end up losing critical LEGO pieces or doll accessories between Christmas Day and a few days later when the serious pack out begins.

I am both a preparer and a celebrator. I like to make plans, get gifts early, make lots of cookies, decorate and leave everything up for the fullness of the Christmas season. This whole notion of emptying the freezer so it can thaw instead of filling it up is very backwards in my frame of mind for this time of year. Though we know little of St. Joseph’s personality from the few passages he is in in the Bible, I believe he and I have some things in common, our affinity for preparation for one.

When Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy, he immediately set out with plans — plans which would have protected Mary to the best of his ability. When the angel appeared to him, his plans clearly changed. But I believe his instinct to protect Mary, and by extension her baby, would have carried on and he would have immediately began planning for this new child. Imagine the cradle a carpenter would make for his son or daughter. Imagine the little stool or bench by the door sized for his toddler. Imagine the toys, trinkets or other baubles he would have made in the evenings by firelight as he awaited the birth of his child.

Now, imagine the pain he must have felt when they received word about the census and he calculated the timing. All of these things he had lovingly and carefully prepared had to be left behind. Imagine how his pain increased when the angel again appeared and told him not to return home to the home he had built, but to flee to Egypt. Sacrifice topped on top of sacrifice. But just because what he had built with his hands had to be left, didn’t mean that Joseph didn’t bring his best along for the journey. Joseph brought his love, his protection, his faithfulness, and his steadfastness.

This year has been fundamentally different. It was not what we planned. Sacrifice on top of sacrifice has brought us to this Advent season. However, we have been gifted an opportunity to choose to approach the coming days with the same spirit of St. Joseph. Christmas Day might not look like what we had planned, but that doesn’t mean we are bringing less than our best. Regardless of how many people are around our table, the child Jesus is with us. No matter how we find ourselves, in our pjs all day or Sunday best, Mary invites us to come and worship her newborn babe. And, regardless of our location, St. Joseph is among us, reminding us that it matters not what we brought or bought. The spirit of Christmas lies in the manger, awaiting not our gifts but our love, our faithfulness, and our devotion.

This post was published first at CatholicMom.com

Merry Mighty Christmas

I recently received an email from a dear church friend who, like many friends, I have only had the briefest of exchanges with these past months. We were catching up with each other – I with our plans for the upcoming move, she sharing her remembrances of working with Air Force families as they transitioned and encouragement for Ben and I as we walk through this transitory period with each other and with the kids. We are exchanging good mailing addresses and confirming our phone numbers won’t be changing. She concluded her latest email as follows:

Merry – Mighty Christmas! The Savior Comes!

I LOVE this! Christmas holds this incredible tension that I don’t think we fully appreciate. God, our Creator, is becoming created. The sky filled with angel choirs – not one angel or two, but hundreds – all singing thunderous praise to God for this mighty miracle.

In any other story, you would expect the angels to part and the god figure to come marching down between the rank and file, perhaps on some kind of noble steed with robes flowing behind and rays of light shooting from his hair. A mighty entrance for the mighty god.

But no, no friends! And this is the (well one of the) wondrous things about our God. While the angels announce His coming, He enters our world in the arms of a simple mother, whose only cradle is small manger for animals. This weak, innocent and helpless baby is the Savior of the world. The whole world was forever changed and continues to be changed by this moment.

Photo credit: Ben Taliaferro 2020

Christmas is merry, it is a time of joyful giving and receiving, a time of spreading love and cheer. It is a season of hope, of what is to come. But Christmas is also mighty, and can inspire us to do mighty things. This Christmas, more unique than most for today’s generations, is an opportunity for such a mighty Christmas.

I’ll just give one example, because I think it is one of the most beautiful and personal for myself and my family. My dad’s mother, fondly called Grandma J, presently lives in an independent living community that is attached to an assisted living and nursing home. As you can imagine, her community has undergone some of the strictest lockdown measures and there was a period of months that she was unable to see any of her family. As the summer moved into fall, the facility began allowing for visitors, under very strict rules and always outdoors. Winter has put a damper on this visiting situation and they have struggled to find a safe way for families to visit their loved ones.

Grandma J

The staff have been so good and have managed to find an indoor space with enough distance and safety measures so that families (a maximum of 2 people at a time) can come visit for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. However, it’s only one space and the time slots are 45 minutes. Naturally, the spots are filling up quickly.

My grandmother had 2 choices. She could have, and rightfully so, frantically called each of her 5 local children to grab whatever they could so she could see someone on this holiday. It would have brought her cheer and joy to have even a little bit of family come to celebrate her.

She, however, made the mighty decision. When the visiting option was announced, she did call everyone. She called them to say to NOT take those precious few visiting spots on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. She said that there are so many residents whose families in a more normal year would only come on Christmas. If this was their one chance to see their children or grandchildren, they should have every opportunity. She has been so blessed by children who do come to visit regularly, she can sacrifice visits on these special days so someone else can enjoy them.

This is love. This is love for others, even others you may not know. Grandma J is 90+ years old. Even if Covid wasn’t a thing, this could very well be her last Christmas. She knows it, we know it. And still, she chose the hard but mighty Christmas. What an incredible inspiration she is, for me and for our whole family. I hope for you as well.

I’d like to wish each of you, dear readers, a Merry and a Mighty Christmas.

Advent is Waiting

This phrase makes me think of the animated movie Atlantis. In order to convince Milo, the scrawny bookworm to take the plunge and go on an expedition to discover the lost city, the financial backer Preston Whitmore says to him, “Atlantis is waiting.” This phrase always gets me, the excitement and anticipation. I wish someone would come around to each of us before a big decision and whisper with that same enthusiasm, “_____ is waiting.”

Friends, Advent is waiting. It’s only a few days away. Are you ready? Am I ready? It’s too bad we don’t have a Preston Whitmore who organizes our whole life ahead of our decisions so that the answer is obvious. What we can do, however, is take these opportunities the Church regularly builds into the liturgical year. Advent is the perfect time to step back, slow down and build momentum in our spiritual life.

This year’s Advent Journals are officially here! There are two different journals, both in pdf format. One narrows your focus to the 4 Sundays of Advent. Each day of the week you read one of the readings, and at the end of the week there are a few reflections. On Fridays, I’ve offered a few key themes and images found in the readings and expanded on their importance. On Saturday, inspired by the overall themes of the Sunday, there is a reflection on one of the aspects of Jesus. The Homily Notes space from last year is still there and can be used for additional note taking. Also, and this is so exciting, I figured out the booklet printing issue from last year so there are 2 versions of this journal, one in Booklet Format and one that is A5 size. If you print the A5 size at home you will need to cut the pages down after printing. If you choose the booklet be sure you select “booklet” or “book fold” in your printer’s settings.

Keep in mind that this journal is preparing for the upcoming Sunday of Advent, so it starts this coming Monday Nov. 25!

The second journal is a repeat from last year. I love using Lectio Divina for Advent. I’ve updated the dates and Scripture verses but the rest of the journal is much the same from last year. The last page is still blank if you would rather select your own Scripture verses. I did not do a booklet format for this journal because of all the writing space so there is only one version of the Lectio journal.

Remember, these journals are totally FREE for you to print, so you can grab both and see which works best for you. Or maybe you will find both inspirational. I’d love to hear which you chose and why. Feel free to share this post with anyone and everyone. It is my Advent gift to all of you.

Daily Graces. kktaliaferro.wordpress.com