This Christmas was my first as an official Carmelite. I found myself making some daring changes.
First, I bought the gifts for the grouchy people on my list first. I stretched myself and bought "nice gifts." I didn't buy cool gifts made by nuns this year. I didn't try to make myself look "hip" or "holy". I didn't buy things that were irresponsibly expensive with the hidden hope of getting "liked" this season, but I put myself out there. I spent the more money on gifts and postage than I was normally comfortable spending and I (the girl who HATES shopping) spend some uncomfortable time hunting extra hard in fro-fro stores. I spent the money on others and didn't fret about what was going to be left to buy stuff for my own children. And then I stood in long lines with a pregnant belly and four grumpy kids to get those gifts shipped out at the Post Office by Dec 6th. Ahh! Advent got easier with that hard task off of my plate.
Then it was on to sharing love with the neighbors.
I live in a kennel. Seriously. The neighbors on each side of my leave their very large, very noisy dogs outside for hours and hours at a time. The poor dogs never stop pleading to be let back inside. Did you know that a Great Dane's bark can be heard inside a brick house even when all the doors and windows are shut? For the past five months, this constant barking has been driving me insane. (Don't even ask me if I've talked to the neighbors because the answer is yes and obviously it's just a mark of my "city ways" that I walk my dog on a leash around the neighborhood myself instead of "tossing him out into the back yard for hours to poop.")
So here is the thing, I needed to get a gift for the neighbors for Christmas. So I prayed to St. Francis of Assisi and I got all the neighbors cute organic dog treats for Christmas. I wrapped them up in pretty Christmas bows. I wrote nice notes. I dropped them off at all the houses secretly in the middle of the night. Amazing reaction!
I didn't realize that since none of these neighbors have kids, they feel like their dogs "are their kids". Sending treats to the dogs was received with such appreciation.
The best part was that it made me feel so better. Now when the Great Dane starts going I have affection in my heart for him.
This Advent I spent most of it very sick. I think pregnant ladies have a lower immune system, right? Anyway, I caught a bad cough on Dec 8th and I was like the walking wounded for all of Advent and Christmas. It was sort of relaxing because I didn't stress out about making this Advent "prayerful." I didn't worry about "making memories."
I knew in my weak state, I had to peacefully take whatever I could or could not get done that day. (I couldn't even really have a plan because this virus came with a nasty habit of starting a coughing fit so bad that I'd suddenly have to throw up. I never knew when I was going to have to retreat into my bedroom for a few hours.)
Becoming a Carmelite has made me more peaceful about Advent. I don't feel like I have to "try hard" to be holy, or force my family to "connect with Christ." I'm more trusting. I know that He's looking for me far more than I'm looking for Him! I've just got to relax and open my heart to the grace He's already poured out into my life.
The "no plan/not trying to hard Advent" ended up being so beautiful. I hope I get the grace to repeat it again next year.