The First Day Of Christmas

I prepared my heart, and now I’m ready to celebrate!

Towards the end of the calendar year, Christians and non-believers alike get in the spirit of the holidays, embracing gift-giving, sweet treats, and time with family and friends. Neighbors exchange cookies, strangers hold the door for an extra moment, and friends remind each other how grateful they are for one another. Christmas time brings out an unquestionable difference in the overall demeanor of our society, largely for the better.

The popular trend has become to start celebrating Christmas the day after Halloween, or after Thanksgiving, or on December 1st, or anywhere after or in between. Decorations emerge, cookies come out of hot ovens, songs about Santa flood the radio stations, and quotes from Buddy the Elf become part of everyday conversation.

But regardless of when each individual or family decides to begin their holiday festivities, the intensity and excitement of the season builds up until Christmas Eve and finally the arrival of Christmas Day, the most wonderful time of the year! The celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ pervades the world as we remember the silent, holy, and beautiful night that resulted from Mary’s “yes” to God. We remember the reason for the season and keep the Christ in Christmas on December 25th.

Then, December 26th bears an overwhelming abrupt end to the season of joy. Decorations come down, lights switch off, products go on sale, the last cookie gets eaten, family goes home, and people go back to work.

The world around me makes Christmas disappear, while I’m just getting started.

Within the Catholic Church, the four-week season of Advent consists of preparing, hoping, waiting, rejoicing, and beholding the Lord, which culminates in the celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas! While we enjoy all the festivities surrounding the holiday, we choose to focus on remembering the realities of Jesus’ sacrifice in becoming a human to join us on earth. We gather together to adore His coming and celebrate this central portion of our faith. This begins a 12-day celebration that lasts until the appearance of the three Wise Men at Jesus’ manger at the Epiphany on January 6th. The song The Twelve Days of Christmas isn’t just a drawn-out silly song describing a bunch of gifts between two lovers; the premise is based on the real length of Christmas.

The day that everyone forgets about Christmas is really only day two.

While the cookies, lights, and decorations bring much cheer and Christmas spirit, we can celebrate even while they come down around us. We can do our part to carry on the celebration by turning on our Christmas lights until the Epiphany, continuing to gather with friends and family, attending Church services, and wishing one another a “Merry Christmas” with a joyful smile. With all of the stress finally gone from shopping for presents, last-minute wrapping, and making tons of treats, we can finally fully immerse ourselves in celebrating the holiday, which benefits our hearts and souls as we enter into a new year. We each can remember the purpose of this Christmas and celebrate it in its entirety – until the Epiphany of our Lord.

Let’s embrace the joy for the full 12 days, and as long as we possibly can. Merry Christmas!

In Joy, Monica

The shepherds went in haste and found Mary and Joseph and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.

Luke 2:16-17, 20

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Where The Ocean Meets The Sky

Two masses of vastness collided into an expanse that seemed to go on for eternity.

After taking off on an early morning flight and finishing reading through all the pamphlets in the seat back pocket (I forgot to bring a book to read), I turned my head and gazed out the window with the clouds floating below me. As the sun rose, I spotted local landmarks and watched miniscule cars cross long bridges below me. Buildings shrunk as I flew upward, and tiny dots of humans became imperceptible. My eyes followed the shoreline next to me, until suddenly everything was gone, and I saw nothing.

Varying shades of blue and white spread out in every direction. The only discernible place my eyes could find was a thin navy line where the ocean met the sky. I thought about nothing.

At many points in my life, a great wide expanse such as this represented nothingness. Looking at the extent of a blank forever indicated that I had nothing ahead of me – no goals, no future, no purpose. I could see the emptiness around me, and felt stuck not knowing what to do or where to go, with no direction of how to proceed. I could only see what was in front of me, and sometimes it truthfully seemed to be absolutely nothing.

Looking out the window of this plane at the spread below, above, and around me, I realized that I was not looking at nothing, but instead I was looking at everything. I could not see the ground below me, and the clear sky above me disguised all else, yet my eyes could see more in that moment than they ever could before.

I started to be able to see beyond me, and I recognized the world of possibilities that could emerge out of that “nothingness.” Instead of being stuck with no direction, I realized that my life begins here, where I am, and can extend outward in any direction with a plethora of opportunities.

All this choice may seem overwhelming at times, but God grants us delightful freedom so that we may use our free will to choose to love Him in our uniquely human way. Centering my life around Christ’s will for me guides me in a direction through the expanse of possibility. We are not limited by just the ocean or the sky, but have opportunity ahead of us far greater than we can imagine.

I can see the same exact image from the window seat on a plane, and have a wildly different understanding of it based on my mindset. If what we see ahead of us seems or feels like nothing, we must change how we view the situation.

We often talk about the vastness of the ocean, or the magnitude of the sky, but we are not limited by just the ocean or the sky. When the two expanses meet, it opens up possibilities and freedom greater than we can comprehend. When the openness of our minds matches the expanse in front of us, the wide stretch suddenly changes from signifying nothing, to signifying everything.

God gives us such an array of opportunities so that we may find our purpose in life and engage in the things that make us and the world a brighter place. In return, we can give that openness back to God to allow Him to direct us in the way He has destined for us. The vastness of our life gives us opportunities to live out our vocation, with no limits.

God created the world out of nothing, so imagine what He can do with us.

In Joy, Monica

For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.

Jeremiah 29:11

The Signing Sub

I left work with a smile on my face and a jump in my step.

This year, I started working as a substitute teacher in the local public school system around my University. Within just a few weeks of venturing back into the worlds of elementary, middle, and high school, I had subbed for every grade from Kindergarten all the way up to 12th grade.

In each class, I try to learn a little bit alongside the students. In an Algebra class, I re-taught myself how to factor equations and then helped students who got stuck. I practiced comprehension skills in a 5th grade reading class. I taught Spanish to Kindergarteners, and brushed up on my vocab for colors and animals. In middle school band, I practiced sight-reading and explained rhythms to students. I engaged in little moments of teaching and witnessed small epiphanies as students understood new concepts, but these experiences remained pretty inconsistent. I also found myself in many classes where the students got a free period to work on assignments for their other classes, which is pretty much code for them to just hang out with each other and goof off.

Each assignment provides new opportunities and challenges, and ample room for growth. After a particularly tough run of substituting and feeling slightly depleted and hopeless about this work, I found myself praying for some guidance about what to do. I knew that I didn’t have to be powerless, but I didn’t know what that looked like for me, at this time, in this situation. I started to think about how I could possibly find more fulfillment in this endeavor, as well as actually provide something beneficial for the wide variety of students I work with. I considered the skills I have and the gifts that I have been blessed with, and thought about how I could try to incorporate them into substitute teaching.

I did some research, and found out that a few nearby high schools offer American Sign Language as a foreign language option. As this was my minor in college, I became excited at the idea of perhaps getting to work in some of these classes. I drafted an email to a few of the ASL teachers, said a prayer as I hit send, and within two hours I received multiple responses and scheduled a few new assignments into my planner.

On my first day in an ASL classroom, I did not use my voice to speak. I used only American Sign Language to communicate and teach the day’s lesson. I fingerspelled the students’ names to take attendance so they could practice receptive skills (and as a plus, I didn’t have to try to pronounce all the names!). I got to use my abilities to help facilitate the learning environment, as well as practice a language that I find astoundingly beautiful and fascinating. I actually left work feeling hopeful and eager, a strong sign that I was on the right track.

The ASL teachers now refer to me as “The Signing Sub,” and I honestly embrace that nickname wholeheartedly. By finding a niche where I feel confident and valuable, I became more effective at my job and found greater personal fulfillment in the work.

Like my newfound specialty, we all can contribute to the world around us in our own unique way. God has given us each gifts designed for a specific purpose, and no one else can do the things that we are each designed to do. Situations in our life may seem impossible or hopeless at first, but through prayer, trial and error, taking risks, and self-advocacy, we can find creative ways to use our skills. To do this, we must work on fostering and recognizing our talents and abilities, honor their value, and use them for good. Then, by sticking through and learning from the hard times, we can figure out ways to make situations better for ourselves and the people around us.

What we do may be something simple or it may be something big, but it is all meaningful.

In Joy, Monica

As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.

1 Peter 4:10

Three Became Twelve

My mind is scattered, I want a thousand naps, and I had a cookie for dinner.

Yep, it’s finals week.

In the midst of all the craziness going on at the end of my first semester of graduate school, I noticed my list of priorities sitting on my nightstand, the one I made with my counselor back towards the beginning of the semester. (Refer back to this post.) I paused for a moment to read through it again, and as I read each line, a bigger and bigger smile stretched across my face. While looking at the list of everything I value, I realized that I have steadily managed all 12 of them. I have balanced each and every thing that I hold dear.

Just a couple of months ago, I struggled to maintain even just three of the priorities on my list, forgetting about myself while swimming in the depth of all the new transitions and responsibilities involved with beginning graduate school. I accomplished the aspects of my life that I absolutely needed to, and neglected everything else.

Since then, I have learned how to orient my life so that I fulfill all of my various roles and engage in the things I value in my life in a way that works with my new graduate school lifestyle. That sentence makes it sound simple, but let me tell you – it took a ton of work, mountains of patience, and a whole lot of grace from Jesus Christ.

While many things have helped me reach this new point, including my many valued and supportive relationships, the largest instigator of change during this time has been my inner recognition that I am worth my time. Before, I pushed and pushed and pushed myself, working to fulfill all of the roles that I deemed important, neglecting my own needs in order to be “successful.” While I may have appeared put-together and on top of things, my emotions, spirituality, and mental health steadily declined as I continued to sacrifice my “me” time for all of these other areas of my life.

As I emphasize repeatedly, self-care proves to be utterly important as we journey throughout our lives. No matter how much we strive to give of ourselves and help others, we must do things that replenish our own energy so that we actually have something to pour out when we try to share from our cup.

To get to this point, I followed a series of difficult, yet healing steps.

I started by reaching out for support from the people closest to me, who helped me determine places in my life where I could temporarily cut back. Through their encouragement, I addressed my immediate needs, and just from this, I started to gain back some of my health. Then, I slowly, and one-at-a-time, reincorporated each aspect of my life that I had previously neglected. While doing this, I reevaluated the amount of time and energy that I could realistically engage in in each category. My nature is generally to reach for the highest standards in everything I do, but I had to adjust my expectations to align with what truly brings me fulfillment, not what I thought would fulfill me. Once I did all of these things, I found myself naturally re-integrating all 12 of the valued portions back into my life.

Throughout all of this, I placed extra emphasis on self-care. My mid-semester breakdown awakened me to the fact that I needed to do some serious readjusting in the ways I cared for myself. I started taking breaks during work, scheduling out time to spend with the people I care about, grocery shopping for healthy ingredients, finishing my work in advance of the deadline, going to therapy regularly, and coloring with my favorite markers, to name just a few of the things I started to do to value my “me” time. I realized that I am worth it.

Miraculously, while taking the time to work on myself as a sane (or somewhat sane) human being, I found that my ability to intentionally engage with others rose dramatically. I had more energy to invest in good causes around me, and more brain space to listen to friends who needed someone to chat with. As I prayed more, I found more time to serve the people around me. While rising from the beginning of poorly managing three priorities, to now positively handling twelve priorities, I started to live a freer, more giving, and more fulfilling life.

There is always hope, and we can always improve. Where we are at any one point does not determine our future, and we have the ability to invest in the things that are important to us in order to bring health and happiness to our lives. Whatever is on your list, fight for it. It’s worth it, and so are you.

In Joy, Monica

Attend to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in both tasks, for by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.

1 Timothy 4:16