Advent Thoughts – Be Vigilant

 

I apologize, I haven’t been writing much at this blog lately.  Things have been pretty busy and my focus has been elsewhere.  I’m hoping to get back to a more consistent blogging schedule soon.

 

In today’s Gospel, Luke says in 21:34-36

 

“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.  For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth.  Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”

 

I heard this at Mass this morning and it just struck me.  How often am I too distracted by what is going on at home or work or society in general to pay attention to the spiritual?  I get distracted by Facebook, Twitter, running, house chores, diet, reading, all sorts of things and I don’t take the time to quietly meditate on my relationship with God.

 

I think it becomes even more apparent at Christmas.  Father Jason said this morning (paraphrasing) that in the “world” it’s already Christmas, and that by the time December 25th gets here, everyone’s tired of it.  But for Christians who have been paying attention to the meaning behind the season, December 25th is the celebration – we are in a period of waiting.  Waiting for the birth of Christ the King.  We need to be vigilant for ways to watch for Christ’s blessing during this busy time.

 

This year, my husband and I are trying to get all of our gift-buying done early.  Typically, we don’t start decorating for Christmas until after my birthday and I’d like to have all of our purchases done by then as well this year.  I really want to focus my girls on the true meaning of Christmas and taking the time to sit with them and talk about Advent.  They see the Advent wreath at Mass, but they don’t know the meanings.  I will confess – I don’t truly know them as well.  I want to make this season special for them and start creating traditions – now that they are old enough to understand.

 

I need to be vigilant.  I need to watch for those gifts that are presented to me as I go throughout my day.  I need to make sure I spend time communing with God, even beyond this season.  I need to make sure my heart does not become overwhelmed by daily life.

 

How will you be vigilant this Advent?

 

“All the Pleasures of the Season”

This was a quick read.  Lady Miranda Archer has had her debut season.  She is trying to do what is right for her family and live up to their expectations.   Her family is no stranger to scandal and she just wanted to be the normal child.  So she picks a man who has been pursuing her all season that by all appearances would be a good match.  Her sister has been pushing for him and her family approves…except her brother.

However, there’s a problem.  Miranda doesn’t really like him.  She doesn’t know him all that well, and there’s just something about him that strikes her as “off”.  She would prefer to be marrying Gilbert, who is a second son and destined for the armed forces.  The problem is that she doesn’t think anyone in her family would support that match.

Miranda begins to understand what marriage to her selected fiance would mean and tries to get out of it.

There’s not a whole lot of depth to the characters, but I would be interested in reading more from this author.  I enjoyed the book and it was a great little read during all of the holiday chaos.

I was provided with this book from Edelweiss.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions are my own.

“A Regency Holiday”

One thing I like about reading books through a review service like NetGalley is finding new authors that I end up liking, new genres that broaden my horizons, and finding common threads between authors.  This was true with my latest book – another anthology, which I usually don’t read, by 4 authors I hadn’t heard of before.

A Regency Christmas is an anthology of 4 Regency-era Christmas stories: “Coventry’s Christmas” by Rebecca Hagan Lee; “Star of Wonder” by Lynn Kerstan; “A Christmas Homecoming” by Allison Lane; and “Home for Christmas” by Alicia Rasley.   Even though I usually don’t read anthologies, I liked all of the stories in this book.  They all had a sense of people realizing their lives needed to be different – usually at the instigation of someone unexpected.

In “Coventry’s Christmas”, Amabel leaves her home to travel to her guardian’s house.  Her father remarried and her step-mother is pretty and jealous, especially after Amabel’s father dies.  There are limited eligible men in Amabel’s hometown, so Amabel has to leave.  Unfortunately for her, the original guardian her father selected died a number of years ago, leaving his son Deverell in charge.  He doesn’t have the greatest reputation, but he hides a heart that means well under all of the dissolute living he has done.  Frankly, the sweetest part to me was a letter that Deverell wrote as a pre-teen to Amabel’s father (after his father died), and then the corresponding letter Amabel’s father wrote when Deverell reached his majority.

“Star of Wonder” is about a journey.  A journey a man has been on since he was 14, and which ends when he arrives at Stella Bryar’s home at Christmas search for something he claims her father stole before he died.  It’s a journey that Stella has to be willing to take within herself, to understand who her father was, and to right a wrong done so many years ago.

Sometimes coming home forces you to see the truth.  In “A Christmas Homecoming” Alex comes home to deal with his family estate.  He comes face-to-face with the woman who jilted him six years before, a cousin who has issues, a houseful of potential brides (invited by his grandmother), and a mother who is just coming out of her grief over the death of Alex’s father.  Alex is forced to confront the truth of the various situations, and not just rely on his perceptions of what happened – including the woman who jilted him.

I probably enjoyed reading “Home for Christmas” the most.  Justin arrives at Verity’s house in search of a knife that Verity advertised in the paper.  He is “hijacked” when he arrives by her.  She needs him to pose as her husband during her visit with her father.  The deal is that Justin will get the knife after a successful visit.  There are layers upon layers of deception and untruth in this story – on all sides.  Verity isn’t completely truthful with Justin, her father, or herself.  Justin has been living a lie for so many years that for him to tell the complete truth could cause a lot of damage to those he loves.  Verity’s father can’t see the blessings in front of his face.

I received this book through NetGalley.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions are my own.

“A Clockwork Christmas” – Stories of Redemption and Love

I have never read a “steampunk” book before.  This was an interesting group of stories for me as I learned about this world of Victorian invention and ingenuity.  It is a group of four stories: Crime Wave in a Corset, This Winter Heart, Wanted: One Scoundrel, and Far from Broken.  I liked 3 out of the 4 stories a lot.  Wanted: One Scoundrel was probably my least favorite out of the 4.

In Crime Wave in a Corset, we meet a young lady who has been a thief most of her life.  She recently stole a Faberge egg from a university professor, who wants it back.  However, in order to get it back, she will have to break into the home of a well-known Irish crime lord.  While planning the theft, she has to learn that some of the walls she has built should be breached.   This was my favorite story.

In This Winter Heart, we meet a mother and her child who are going back to the child’s father’s home, as they have fallen on hard times.  The mother’s secret destroyed their marriage and the father doesn’t realize he has a son.  While there, she is hurt while rescuing their son.  They have to realize what is important and what the definition of “human” is.  This was my third favorite story.

Wanted: One Scoundrel is the story of an Australian suffragette, whose father is extremely wealthy.  She wants to start a political party, but needs a man to be the figurehead.  She finds one, but he is not who he appears to be.  She needs to learn that being independent doesn’t mean being subservient.  This was my least favorite story.

Far from Broken is the story of a woman’s will to survive.  Her husband is a spy for the government.  She was taken as a way to control him, and ended up being tortured almost to death.  He made a deal with the government for her care, and now they both have to come to terms with the agreement.  This was my second favorite story.

I received this book through the NetGalley system.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions are my own.

“Her Christmas Pleasure” – A Quick Read

Karen Erickson’s Her Christmas Pleasure is a quick read about two people who haven’t admitted they love each other.  Damien is a Napoleonic war veteran who has accepted a job in another country.  He was Celia’s late husband’s best friend and has worked/lived with the family his entire life.  He seemed to be in that nebulous grey area of not quite a servant, but not born to the family.

Celia’s mourning period is almost over.  She lives with her late husband’s family, since her son is the heir.  Her husband was an only child, and the holidays are difficult for his parents.  She had a good relationship with her husband and has come to rely on Damien to be her friend – and a connection to her husband.

This Christmas, Damien realizes that he either has to tell Celia about his feelings or leave without telling her.  But the timing has never been right….then they accidentally meet under the mistletoe.  What follows is a somewhat rushed courtship – full of feelings of passion, guilt, confusion, and ultimately love.

I sometimes think these books rush the relationship too quickly.  I understand that when you have a novella, that it just has to happen that way, and that a book like this calls for a certain suspension of reality.  If you are looking for a quick read that involves Christmas and that doesn’t require a whole lot of thought, this book is for you.  Warning – there are a few explicit intimate scenes.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via the NetGalley system.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

Taking Time During Advent to Prepare

During Advent, not only are we called to be watchful, but we are called to be prepared.  We should be prepared to not only receive Christ, but to receive Him with Joy.

While waiting for the birth of Christ, we are asked to meditate on the gifts we are given.  There are the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the gifts of life and liberty, and the gift of those around us.

Too often, we are in a rush to get to Christmas.  Each year, the holiday decorations come out earlier and earlier.  Those same people who grumble about the stores having Christmas items up are rushing to put up their Christmas tree on Thanksgiving Day.  It’s not Christmas yet…it’s Advent – WAIT!

Unless we take the time to wait – to watch and prepare – to be appreciative for the great gifts we have been given, we won’t know the true meaning of Christmas.  The joy of Christ’s birth will be lost amid the rush, lost amid the day-to-day struggles we all face, and lost to time once again.

In my family, we wait to put up our tree until after my birthday in the beginning of December.  This year, as I have been listening to the homilies at church and really trying to refocus myself, I’ve come to realize that to my girls, Christmas isn’t so much about Christ.  That makes me sad, but when I think about it, Christmas wasn’t about Christ when I was growing up either.  Christmas was about family and gifts.  I think I’d like to make a change in how my family looks at Christmas.  I don’t want my girls to be so focused on Santa and the gifts he brings that they miss the true meaning of the season.  I want them to think about the gifts they have been given, and the gift of Christ.  I know it will be difficult – there’s so much focused on the commercialization and they are only 4 and 7, but I think it’s important for them to understand. While they are joyous about the season, it’s for the Santa aspect, not the gift of Christ.

Are you taking the time to prepare to receive Christ with joy?

“A Marriage Carol” Made Me Think About What Could Be…

I just finished A Marriage Carol by Chris Fabry and Gary Chapman.  It was an extremely quick read, but one that pulled me in.  It’s the story of Marlee and Jacob who are traveling through a snow storm to their attorney’s office on Christmas Eve to sign their divorce papers.

It’s a bittersweet journey.  They were married on Christmas Eve a 20 years ago, and there was a snow storm that night as well.  Even though they are on their way to end their marriage, they are both thinking of that night 20 years ago.  The reader is able to see into the current state of their marriage, from Marlee’s point of view.

They are run off the road by a semi and they land in the snow in the ditch.  Marlee can’t find Jacob, so she goes for help.   Eventually she comes up to a house which is owned by an elderly couple.  We are told that his name is Jay and his wife is not well.  He invites Marlee in, gets her warm, and lets her talk.

I don’t want to give away the ending, but I really enjoyed this story.  I think that the play off A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is a useful plot device.  I liked how real the characters seemed.  For me, it provides me a tool for when I am feeling frustrated; I can ask myself “What would happen if I make Decision A over Decision B?” or “What would happen if I allow the situation to fester?”

I would definitely recommend this book.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via the NetGalley system.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

Being Watchful During Advent

In the readings for the first Sunday of Advent, we were admonished to “be watchful”.

  • Be watchful for Jesus. 
  • Be watchful for opportunities to minister to others. 
  • Be watchful for others ministering to us. 
  • Be watchful for the movement of the Holy Spirit

Be watchful for Jesus.  To Christians, we are in a perpetual season of Advent, waiting for the coming of Christ. This is amplified annually during the Christmas season as we wait for the birth of the Christ-child. Our readings, our reflections are about watching…watching those around us for the joy of the season.

I am seeing this daily in our home. This is the first Christmas that our youngest actually understands that there’s something going on. She is sooo excited about Christmas – sure, it’s the excitement of Santa and of getting gifts, but she is enthralled by everything Christmas-related. She was so happy to help me set up our small Nativity scene the other night. We talked about each piece and what they were. Now whenever she walks by it, she says that it’s her “special thing” that she did with Mommy. For her, Advent is taking “too long”; but for us, it’s not long enough.

Be watchful for opportunities to minister to others. The holidays are a time that donations spike. People are in a giving spirit and they are called upon, whether by others or by their conscience, to give of their time, money, or talents. Ministering to others doesn’t have to be formal affair…maybe it’s as simple as holding the door for someone who is burdened with items, or a kind smile when you see someone who is frazzled. It may be volunteering for a task at work, your church, or other organization that would stretch your comfort level. It’s amazing how ministering to others can influence your everyday life.

Be watchful for others ministering to us. I tend to rush through my day always playing catch-up. I don’t always notice others as I go about my tasks. I tend to want to do things on my own, and I will struggle through a task even though someone else may have offered to help. My challenge in the coming years is to learn to accept others who are ministering to me. To accept that smile, to accept that offer to babysit, to accept that little girl’s hand in mine and not to rush through my day. Accept each person ministering to you as a gift and say “Thank you” with a spirit of thankfulness and grace in your heart.

Be watchful for the movement of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit moves in unexpected ways. Stories of people who made a serendipitous connection with a stranger abound, or how the non-answer to a prayer was really the answer to the deeper prayer. Be watchful for how the Holy Spirit moves in your life and the lives of those around you. For us, we struggled for years with wanting to have a child. We decided to become foster parents so that we could help others, but we still wanted to have a child of our own. We were finally blessed with the gift of two little girls who fit perfectly into our lives and our family. God heard our cries and even though we weren’t blessed with a child of our bodies, we were blessed with children of our heart. The Holy Spirit moved in mysterious ways.

How have you been watchful this Advent season?

“The Christmas Singing” – A Wonderful Christmas Story about Perceptions

The Christmas Singing is a quiet novel set in the current day.  Mattie and Gideon grew up together in their Pennsylvania Amish community, and eventually were engaged.  However, Gideon broke Mattie’s heart when he broke up with her three years ago.  Mattie gathered herself together and moved to live in the same Ohio town as her brother.  There, she was able to follow her dream of opening a bakery and built a small, but successful company.  She even started to move on and met a new man from the local Amish community.  Sol has a steady, quiet demeanor that appeals to Mattie after her relationship with Gideon.

When Mattie is faced with the destruction of her company, she runs into Gideon again.  She is forced to confront her feelings for him, her feelings for Sol, as well as her desire to reopen her business.  Mattie has always believed that she was the wronged party in the breakup between her and Gideon.  However, things are not always as they appear.  Gideon has had a very good reason for breaking up with her – one that Mattie has to take the time and the reflection to discover.

Mattie has a standing engagement for the Christmas singing.  Either she goes to her hometown singing with Gideon, or she meets Sol at the singing in Ohio.  Whichever one she chooses will determine her future.

I liked this story.  I thought that it was a great story and I liked how calm the writing was.  I had the feeling that I was getting to know these characters, even though it was a short novel.  I liked that Mattie seemed to be more “worldly” than some of the other Amish heroines.  She seems so very creative and her bakery has allowed her to earn a living doing something that she loved.  I was caught up in the differences between Sol and Gideon.  While I wanted her to pick the right man, I could see how she would be conflicted, given the circumstances.

I received this book from WaterBrook Press for the purposes of reviewing it.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions expressed are my own.