I thought I'd take a moment out of this absurdly busy time of year to reflect on it a little bit. Or, rather, I figured I'd share with you some of the reflections I've had over the years about the season. It'll be a little bit of a departure from the "throw up 100 photos and half-assedly caption them and call it a post"-esque updates I've passed off as "blogging" lately, and it'll also represent a slight bend in my rule of "don't talk about religion on the blog EVER" so feel free to skip this one if your brain is off or if you have your secular britches on. Not that I'm going to be deeply dogmatic or anything, but if you're looking for pictures of unruly toddlers screaming in Santa's lap at the mall, this isn't it.
I've always loved Advent. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas has, for me, always been the most beautiful time of year - from both a secular and a theological standpoint. See, I love sparkly things so I totally get into the commercial side of Christmas (note our 5 Christmas trees) but I've always, always, adored the four weeks leading up to the birth of Christ. As a child, my family never failed to spend Sunday evenings gathered around our Advent wreath, lighting the candles one by one and praying together, following our ritual with eggnog and cookies and Christmas music in front of the fire and lit tree. I loved it. It brought us together and it offered a respite from the hectic hustle-and-bustle of the season. The physical manifestation of the passing weeks represented by the candles made real for me the beautiful sense of expectation leading up to Christmas. It was our way of trying to preserve the real meaning of the holiday.
In 2006, though, Advent took on new meaning for me. A deeper, more intense and glorious meaning. I was pregnant for the first time. I was expecting Jack - my first child - and I felt an incredible sense of joy that I could never have imagined during those weeks. But I also felt trepidation and uncertainty at the road that was before us. I listened to the readings at Mass and reveled in Mary's story and connected with her in a way that made Advent real for me. For the first time, as I felt Jack wiggle and squirm inside my body, I imagined how terrified Mary must have been to feel those same things and not understand why or how it had happened. I attended my appointments and wondered how much faith she must have had to possess to carry a child for God and rely on her body and her Lord to keep them safe without medicine. I wondered if her birth had hurt or if she was sheltered from the pain. I wondered if the infant Jesus was good at feeding or if he slept all night or if he threw tantrums as a toddler. What was it like to watch the Son of God take his first steps? What was it like to wean him from breastmilk to solid food?
For the first time in my life, I could identify with the people who make the Christmas story what it is. I saw them as individuals instead of just characters or figures. That year, Advent and the birth of Jesus were more tangibly real to me than ever before and my faith grew as I never thought possible. All of a sudden I became aware that real people had been there... that God had chosen people like me and Justin and countless others to do His work before and that everything we have now is because of His son's birth to Mary. It was profound and striking and it made me more aware of His presence in my life. It made me try harder to listen to His direction and guidance. It made me more calm and confident through stress and turmoil in my own life to close my eyes and imagine how stressful and tumultuous it was for Mary and Joseph to follow His path for them and then to reflect on how miraculous the ending was for them... I used - and continue to use - that to bolster my own faith that sometimes our plans are immaterial and that God has different things in store for us.
I am pregnant for my 3rd and likely last Advent season. And last night, when we lit the fourth candle on our wreath, I felt a sense of loss and sadness that I expect to feel again and again as this pregnancy draws to a close and I watch my last baby grow up and away from me. For three seasons, I've enjoyed feeling my babies - God's blessings - thriving within me during the Advent weeks. I won't again, and I can only hope that I never forget how wondrous and joyous this time of year is and continue to deepen my faith year after year - even without expecting my own babe during the season.
So, as I count down the 5 days leading up to Christmas with joy and excitement, I'm also planning on savoring each one knowing they are - like all days, important or not - never going to come back and all I'll have are the memories.
Merry Christmas to all and may peace be with each one of you this glorious week and always!
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