An Incarnational—and Infectious—Start to My Advent

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The weeks preceding Christmas—Advent—usually have the perception of being a magical, jovial, and anticipatory of the birth of the Christ-child. While certainly, my Advent began with an anticipation, it lacked marvel and apparent joy. Instead of initially thinking about preparing my heart and mind for the Lord, I juggled the infectious side effects of projectile vomit and diaper explosions. Both of my sons came down with the stomach flu over the weekend.

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Nothing tests a parent’s patience, will-power or love of their children quite like a continual cleaning of bodily fluids. On top of the symptoms of the stomach flu, my youngest son is also recovering from an adenoidectomy (see below diagram if you never heard of that organ before–as I never did prior to this surgery!) Because the flesh is healing behind his nasal cavity, my two year old’s breath has smelled like death since the surgery and apparently it may take up to three weeks for his rotting-breath odor to be gone!  What a start to the New Liturgical year!

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Too often society places pressure for the perfect “holiday” season: all the gifts must be precisely wrapped and laden under the Christmas tree in a tidy order, the Christmas meal has to be cooked to the exact temperature and paired with the appropriate side dishes depending on the main dish, and family members need to behave–especially your “estranged/weird” uncle [or aunt or other unique relative you may have]. Honestly, I fall into this fallacy almost every year myself. This year was no different. I hoped to be able to take my entire family to Mass to celebrate the First Sunday of Advent. I wanted to show my kids the beautiful Advent wreath and talk about the particular reasons the priest wears purple, or “FATHER IS DRESSED IN PURPLE” as my daughter would shout with glee. Sadly, none of that happened. Because of my priority as a parent, I had to miss this Mass to care for my ailing family.

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After taking some time to reflect on the apparent failures of the weekends, I realized maybe God was preparing me for something greater—Advent really is all about preparation for the coming of Christ. Revisiting the birth narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, showed me that the arrival of Jesus did not occur in the ideal standards, at least according to the world’s standards. Luke 2:7 details how Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem “too late” and the innkeeper denied them a room at the inn. Instead, of giving birth in the amenities of indoor comfort, Mary had to give birth to Jesus in a humble way—in a simple stable. American novelist Flannery O’Connor wrote the following about the Incarnation,

Man’s maker was made man that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast; that the Bread might hunger, the Fountain thirst, the Light sleep, the Way be tired on its journey; that Truth might be accused of false witnesses, the Teacher be beaten with whips, the Foundation be suspended on wood; that Strength might grow weak; that the Healer might be wounded; that Life might die.

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By becoming a human Jesus was able to encounter the entirely of the human condition save for sin. In my children’s pain, suffering, tiredness, and thirstiness this past weekend, Christ was with them in a unique way as he already suffering all those things during his 33 years on Earth.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 463, “Belief in the true Incarnation of the Son of God is the distinctive sign of Christian faith: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God.” The season of Advent is not about preparing for the “perfect” Christmas where Mary and Joseph get a room at the inn. Rather, Advent is about preparing for the birth of Jesus Christ. His birth took place in the messiness of the stable, his Passion and Death took place on the messiness of the Cross. While not everything in my life will be neatly fit in my control, after this incarnational and infectious start to Advent, I had the privilege to be graced with the gift of perspective and opportunity to serve my children as Christ served the world!

Tsunami of Tiredness—Tips to Stay Afloat During Storms of Life

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Both a blessing and a curse, water exists as a life-giving resource or a potential deadly force—in the form of floods, monsoons, and hurricanes. The universality of hydrogen dioxide always is a great example to compare the stresses and storms of life against. Summer vacation does not always seem like a retreat especially as a father of three young children. Over the past week, my family traveled to a local state park and camped in a cabin, visited our municipal zoo, and went to a children’s museum. While on paper that seems a recipe for a smooth, carefree, and memorable family experience, the reality with having children with special needs do not necessarily match this ideal.

The power-struggle of putting our four-year old toddler to bed each night combined with daily challenges adapting to two sons on the autism spectrum needs to be frequently prepared for change led to lassitude. Actually, mere fatigue does not adequately capture my wife and I’s emotional, physical, and mental state. In fact, my energy was zapped from me and it felt like we withstood—ONLY by a great miracle—a tsunami of tiredness!

Precisely how did I live through the most recent storm of life?  Reflecting on the course of the past week, I realized some important ways to survive, or stay afloat, maelstroms of life.

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The Rock We May Cling To:

According to Matthew 11:28, Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” The Old Testament also speaks of entrusting your concerns, weariness, and anxieties with the Lord. Isaiah 40:31 describes this, “But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” Moreover, the Psalmist describes God as a bastion to remain safe: “But the LORD is my fortress; my God is the mighty rock where I hide” (Psalm 94:22).

What I find interesting is the description of God as a mighty rock as a place for us to hide. Amid stressful situations it may seem like a copout to go into hiding while the storm passes. However, hiding is not the same as fleeing.

As a parent, I go into brief periods of hiding [into another room or even outside] when the noise, raucous, and whining of my children compound on each other. Taking a five minute break in the form of “hiding” into another room or at least seeking “hiding” through prayer is actually a healthy thing that makes the difference to me parental mindset. Frankly, I need to utilize opportunities to “hide” or cling to the rock of Our Lord much more often that I do currently!

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Mary—Model to Mirror:

Along with the stalwart strength God affords us during the stormy seas of life, looking to the Blessed Virgin Mary as a role model to emulate is another way that I stay afloat during bouts of exhaustion. My family’s favorite appellation for Mary is Star of the Sea. In fact, through this devotion of Stella Maris [Latin for Star of the Sea] that my wife’s faith as. Convert to Catholicism deepened!

A nautical theme exist in our living room and bedroom with the walls decorated with anchors. These aquatic ballasts symbolize the ability to be anchored in the Lord and experience security continual turmoil of daily stresses. As the supreme role model for humanity, the Blessed Mother of God shows us that obedience to God is possible. My personal favorite quote about Mary’s guidance comes from St. Thomas Aquinas. According to the Doctor of the Church, “As mariners are guided into port by the shining of a star, so Christians are guided to heaven by Mary” Another sainted doctor, Francis de Sales, provides incredibly powerful words to describe Mary’s intercessory influence, “Let us run to her, and, as her little children, cast ourselves into her arms with a perfect confidence.”

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Ready, Set, and Prepare for the Next Storm:

Together with reliance on God and looking to Mary as a human role model, being prepared is absolutely essential for withstanding a current maelstrom you may be experiencing and for weathering future flurries.  According to St. Josemaria Escriva, “Discouragement is the enemy of your perseverance. If you don’t fight against discouragement, you will become pessimistic first and lukewarm afterward. Be an optimist (The Way, no. 988

Prepare yourself with seeing trials that come into your life as an opportunity to learn and grow instead of being a burden drown you in a sea of depression. I honestly did not realize that the Spanish saint’s feast day was today until I noticed a post from in a Catholic group I follow on Facebook. Even as I am writing now I struggle with physical stamina and mental mettle to complete this post. Suddenly, looking at an underlined passage that begins the chapter entitled Perseverance—I pause and realize that preparation does pay off! St. Josemaria reminded me, “To begin is for everyone, to persevere is for saints” (The Way, no. 983).

Without God’s previous preparation and my cooperation in that through my learning about the wisdom of St. Josemaria Escriva, there conclusion to this post would be a little rocky [no pun intended!]. That being said, I am always willing to seek the advice of the spiritual giants who came before me. I always desire to seek an opportunity to better myself. While I failed to exit the most recent life-storm unscathed and with grace [both my wife and kids know that I lost my patience many times and pledge to be a better husband and father], my  reliance on God as a rock of strength, Mary as a guide, and the rest of the saints as models to emulate I will be better provided to stay afloat with the next  tsunami of tiredness hits. I pray that you find this read helpful and stay afloat with me using these tips during your storm(s) of life as well!

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