Archive for December, 2014

Our Christmas Traditions

by Rachel Lee, HCA Parent

As we turn the page of our calendar to November the skies tend to be a bit more grey and the days darker. November is the month of my birthday, and on the evening of it, we usher in the start of our family’s Christmas. We have found this to be a quiet and peaceful time in our home where Thanksgiving and Christmas overlap. We do not hang red and green decorations, bake cookies, build gingerbread houses, or make snowflakes. Those things can wait. Rather, we allow ourselves two weeks before December starts to slowly savor the meaning of Christmas, remembering our greatest gift for which we are thankful.

For sixteen years on the evening of my birthday, our family’s Christmas tradition has started by curling up together on the sofa and watching the movie Little Women. The opening scene is similar to the book, winter and snow in Massachusetts and four sisters discussing Christmas. That year, the gifts will be sparse as money is scarce. Despite their lack or resources, the sisters all choose to spend their one precious dollar on gifts for their mother – a pair of gloves, new slippers, hemmed handkerchiefs, and cologne. We are reminded of the small things.

Marmee’s character arrives home that evening shaking snow off her skirts and tells of a poor immigrant family. There is a new baby and six children huddled into one bed to keep from freezing. She asks, “My girls, tomorrow will you give them your breakfast as a Christmas present?” There is a moment of pause then the sisters choose the sacrifice that will bless others. The next morning, they cheerfully pack their Christmas breakfast and deliver it while joyfully singing Christmas carols. We watch their sacrifice played before us. By the movie’s end the Christmas spirit has fully welled inside each member of our family.

That same evening is the first night that our girls fall asleep to the sounds of Christmas carols playing softly. Their three beds are in a row and we see them smile as the first notes begin. We love the music that has told the story of Christ’s birth for more than a century. “O Come all Ye Faithful “- 1841, “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” – 1849, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” – 1863, “Silent Night” – 1818. We find it nice to have a little more time and space before the holiday rush, to hear the carols and listen to their words.

Our final November Christmas tradition is held within a large box that is brought from the basement. The box contains books, story after story about Christmastime. Sneaky trolls that steal gifts, a pig traveling through snowy storms to be home on Christmas Eve, a magical train to the North Pole, a Christmas in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, on and on and on, the tales weave. Over the days, we take time to sit and read by the fire. The kids don’t mind that the stories have been told too many times to count.

Creating our tradition of carving out two quiet weeks in November was not intentional. It just happened to us, and we have maintained it. I am thankful for that. At times, our family has found the month of December difficult to slow down and control. We are pulled in many directions and sometimes unable to be filled with quiet and rest. Ironically, it is the ‘still small voice’ that can be hard to hear during the December hustle and bustle. Our tradition gives us peace and joy as we savor the meaning of the true Christmas story. I am reminded of a poem from one of our books in the Christmas box.

Take Joy

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take Heaven.

No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant. Take Peace.

The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet, within our reach is joy. Take Joy.

And so, at this Christmas time, I greet you, with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away.

~Christmas Eve 1513, by Fra Giovanni

Merry Christmas from our family to yours! May the God of Peace be with you.

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My Advent Waiting

by Patricia Hahn, Dean Emeritus & History Teacher

When I was a child, I knew that once the Thanksgiving turkey was cleared from the dining room table, it was time to begin the countdown to Christmas. I viewed Advent season as the long onerous waiting until I got to open my Christmas presents. Raised in a Christian home, I knew the reason for the season – the birth of Christ – but those lovely, mysterious packages under the tree were so enticing!

As I got older, I understood that Christ’s road to the cross began with his birth in the manager adding more importance to the holiday season than the tinsel and colored lights. Still I didn’t appreciate the meaning of Advent. Who of us likes waiting? “I don’t know of anyone who has said that they had the gift of waiting.” (Glossi)

Yet, for nearly 1600 years the Christian church has set aside these four weeks to intentionally and deliberately consider the idea of waiting. This waiting is a time to remember our need for a Savior, the love of God for his people and the hope of his Second Coming. These thoughts are intended to evoke the true Spirit of Christmas – peace, hope, love and joy.

But as the busy holiday season intensifies, I rarely express these sentiments when I find myself in situations where I am actually waiting – waiting in long checkout lines and at busy intersections. I am more apt to grumble and moan about slow-moving customers and inattentive drivers, “Don’t they know that I have important places to go and people to see?”

Oops, it’s Advent and I am supposed to be pondering the birth of the Savior. . .

This season, I would like to learn the value of Advent waiting. As I wait in those lines instead of the usual complaints, perhaps I’ll take a deep breath and use that time to consider the wonderful gift of the Savior. And for those who wait with me, I’ll pray a Christmas blessing.

Lead me in Your truth and teach me,
For You
are the God of my salvation;
On You I wait all the day.

                                                                                                             Psalms 25: 5

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Black Ice…and Other Navigable Pitfalls on the Road to Education

by Linda Mulvany, Secondary English Teacher

You know it’s out there. And you know that hitting it could mean disaster. I hate driving when the conditions are right for black ice: wet roads and freezing temps. But the truth is, I’ve made it home alive every time so far.

John and I lived in Michigan for 11 years, so slipping and sliding by foot or by car are old hat. One day, we had to cross a parking lot completely covered in thick ice. I started to slide. John couldn’t see me, so he walked on. But I didn’t panic. I did what every Michigander knows to do: I locked my knees, kept my balance, focused on what I had to do, and prayed that I’d make it to better footing – FAST!

As John made it to the other side, he turned around; and, still in a slide, I just smiled and waved. Eventually, I made it, and as John said, “Good job, Honey,” I felt “Michigan proud” for having mastered the art of staying upright on the ice!

Driving in snow and skidding here and there last week, I thought about how that anxiety related to making it successfully through school. I remember the feeling in every class of waiting for that assignment that was going to drop my grade. I always want to encourage my students when they are worried about mastering the skills and acquiring the knowledge they need that will be reflected in good grades.

As the end of the first semester approaches, we can bolster student confidence, reminding them of 4 things.

  1. Keep Calm. When Israel was about to learn God’s Law, they were frightened. But Moses said, “Do not beafraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” Ex 20:20. Whatever the lesson, students can confidently face it. The goal: bring out the best and minimize mistakes. When Moses shared the 10 Commandments, the people of Israel were entirely focused on the gift, and fear diminished. They came to value the lesson.
  2. Stay Focused. To dispel fear and get America on task, Franklin D. Roosevelt charged the nation to face the Great Depression with courage in his First Inaugural Address, “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” When faced with a daunting challenge, like agreement of indefinite pronouns, students often want to avoid the situation. But every success leads to greater success. And our words of encouragement can give students the boost they need to stay focused on the task and overcome each challenge.
  3. Look Straight Ahead. Someone’s Near to Help: If you’ve known me for more than 10 minutes, you know I have ADHD. My attention is all over the place. But I’ve learned some tips and tricks to keep myself on task and get all my trains on one track. One is to have a partner, someone who will keep me accountable. Friends who challenged and loved me helped me succeed because they asked me about my goals, dreams and hopes. I knew what I had to do. But when my energy waned, they re-ignited my passion.
  4. Pray and Wait for Sure Ground. Thankfully, students are not alone in their academic challenges at HCA. They are surrounded by prayer and a living cloud of witnesses who will vouch for their abilities. I remember desperate pre-test prayers for recall. But in hindsight, I should have prayed for the peace of God, for discipline and for strength to resist distractions.

Black ice. Slippery spots. Grammar tests. They’re out there. But students need not fear. We’ve all “been there, done that,” and we’re waiting on that sure footing, coaching them all the way. They will make it to the other side, like those who went before, more prepared in knowledge and stronger in their skills. And there WILL be great rejoicing!

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