Why I Say Merry Christmas...and it may surprise you!

I just did a quick Google search for religious holy days and holidays in December. I found 14, and I'm sure there are a few more that I'm missing.  For a point of reference, those of us who trace our faith roots back to Abraham; that means anyone who is Jewish, Muslim or Christian--we all have celebrations in December. One of the world's oldest monotheistic religions, the Zoroastrians honor the death of their prophet, while Buddhist friends celebrate Buddha's decision to sit under a very special tree waiting for enlightenment--which he did receive. All of these celebrations are poignant, beautiful and special to each faith tradition.

 As Catholics, we have a unique strong hold on December, in addition to Christmas, we celebrate a special holy day devoted uniquely to Mary on December 8th, we have a whole bunch of saint's feast days, and if that wasn't enough, we take all four weeks leading up to Christmas and call it Advent.

Despite what the advertisers tell you,  for Christians, the Christmas season isn't our holiest of times--no we save that for Easter.

But that said, I'm a big fan of Advent, I love that we are reminded to prepare for the birth of the Christ child. We need to make our hearts ready, we are also required to pray... To slow our lives down and be open to hearing the voice of the Divine. Those requirements are a tall order in a world fueled by consumerism.

Advent begins the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Often folks are still celebrating with family when we all roll into mass. For Christians, it's a our New Year, our calendar begins again, and it ushers in a time of reflection, repentance and preparation. Each of the four weeks of Advent provides Christians a chance to refocus our gaze on a stable in Bethlehem and the birth of our Messiah--not on Santa, and our ridiculously long shopping lists.

As parents, its hard... Let's just be honest.

To raise humans that are focused on the "real celebration" of our holy days and not the pursuit of stuff.

We are all also striving to teach our children about gratitude. Being grateful comes in many forms; one of the best is to say, "thank you". This year in an effort to assist in the focus--both of the Beauties are writing four letters. The idea is that each letter represents a week of Advent.

As a family, we sat down and discussed who would be the recipients of the letters. Our requirements were simple, each letter was to be to an adult, someone over 18. They needed to be someone the Beauties admired and were instrumental in helping them on their path to adulthood.  They could be a couple or individual, teachers, family member or adult wisdom figure (insert awesome family friend). What captivated me was as the Beauties assembled their list (of the 8 letters) only two are being sent to Catholics. Which is why the letters are so exciting. My children are being raised in faith, but the people who influence, challenge, and love them-- offer a beautifully full picture of the world. We remind the Beauties all the time, you are constantly building your tribe, the people who will stand with you in the storm and eat cake and toast you in times of celebration. That is an awesome job, so it's our job as parents to help you (them) identify the qualities that they will need in their adult tribe.

Which gets me back to the reason I wish folks a, "Merry Christmas".

In our culture, we work very hard to create a world that is more respectful of diversity. In doing so, we have turned away wishing friends specific holy days, instead we turn to the generic:

"Happy Holidays."

I'm not a fan but, when someone wishes me a "Happy Holidays," I say, "thank you," with love in my heart.

I'm what you would call a multi-cultural friend, I love celebrating holy days with others. I have celebrated oodles of holy days with friends who aren't Christian. I've celebrated Passover, enjoyed lighting candles for Hanukkah (Norah's best friend's menorah is beautiful). I have been wished the joys of the Hindu celebration of Diwali by my friend in London. She wished me prosperity, the joy of hope over darkness, and the removal of negative forces from my home and life!  If had been lucky enough to be in London; I would have feasted on delicious food, seen her home illuminated with candles to remove the negative forces from her home and her life-- I would have gotten to celebrate the joy of her holiday.

Don't you wish you were wished a Happy Diwali?!?!

NOTHING makes me happier, then when one of my friends wishes me the joy of their faith's holy day!

Have you ever stopped to think how much love comes from someone when they share the joy of their tradition?

So if I were in a shop and someone wished me a Happy Hanukkah; I would say thank you!  I would be delighted that someone would wish me the joy of their Festival of Light!  When I wish someone Merry Christmas, whether your Christian or not, I'm wishing you the sentiments of my holy day and my faith tradition which is Peace, Joy and Love.

Let me be clear about what I'm not saying:

I'm not saying, sorry your messiah hasn't come and mine has. Nor am I saying that because I'm a christian and maybe your not, you are destined to some ring of hell; because you don't believe what I do.


I'm sharing with you that I meet the Divine through my Catholic tradition. And in December it's a special time for me. It is a beautiful season that by its very origin celebrates love. It is a holy and special time in my faith. So when I want to share that love, that joy, it's not me being unkind--it's me trying to be gracious, loving and thoughtful.

In the same token, when my friends wish me the joy of their holy days, I'm humbled, touched and deeply moved that they would share the very love of their tradition with me.

As I have shared in earlier post, the world has been showing profound ugliness of late. I will be the first to share that my faith tradition has done some horrible deeds in the name of religion. The humanness of the world is painful in all its forms. I know in my heart that the Divine shares that pain and sorrow; when as humans we spread darkness, hate, evil-- not light, peace and most profoundly LOVE.  I stand by my assertion that the world is full of way more beautiful people (because I have meet so many of you)!  When you surround yourself with the goodness of the world, it then becomes our duty, as the good ones, to stand even taller and share our love and light with others.

AND I will further add....

No one who has wished me the joy of their holy day has ever tried to convert me, disparaged my faith tradition or my families....or told me my traditions are wrong or another faith is superior.

That has NEVER been my experience--ever.

Along with my family, we will attend a program at Norah's school called a Festival of Light, where we will go and experience other family's holy days for the month of December. What makes it so special is that afterwards, we come home and discuss the commonalities of our other friend's faiths. My Beauties will then explain that some of their friend's celebrations are way better than our traditions. Where we remind each other, it's yet, another reason why we like to celebrate with our friends!

As you hustle and bustle this year; share your love and light... And to everyone who is expecting my Christmas card, consider this post your card. Here's hoping, I'm less disorganized next year!

With all the love I have, I wish you and yours the blessing of my tradition; the beauty of a season filled with peace, joy and love.  I send this wish by saying the simple words, "Merry Christmas."

The Divine in me bows to the Divine in you, today and always.




photo credit: Katrinitsa

Christmas balls




My Christmas...

Santa Barbara Mission at Christmas...

On Friday my mother and I attended a mini-retreat at the Mission. The retreat covered one of my favorite readings. The reading from Luke on the birth of Christ.

In case your forgot or don't know it...

Luke 2:1-14

"In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus

that the whole world should be enrolled.

This was the first enrollment,

when Quirinius was governor of Syria.

So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.

And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth

to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem,

because he was of the house and family of David,

to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.

While they were there,

the time came for her to have her child,

and she gave birth to her firstborn son.

She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger,

because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields

and keeping the night watch over their flock.

The angel of the Lord appeared to them

and the glory of the Lord shone around them,

and they were struck with great fear.

The angel said to them,

“Do not be afraid;

for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy

that will be for all the people.

For today in the city of David

a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.

And this will be a sign for you:

you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes

and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel,

praising God and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest

and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.""

What I find so moving about this reading is well..., it's frankly so ordinary. Of all the mysteries of faith, this is so easy to understand. A young woman giving birth to a child. Perhaps that is why it still moves me each and every time I encounter it. I can imagine a young woman suddenly in labor: no ER, no midwife, no doctor available--It happens everyday in the world. It is the most simple of concepts, but no other event in our history has a more profound meaning. Perhaps that is why every Christmas Eve when I stand in my most uncomfortable but stunning shoes and hear this reading--I ugly cry.

You see, I look around in whatever church I have the good fortune to attend and I see myself in every face. I see my beauty and my brokenness, my love, my pain, my hurt and hope. In friends, in strangers, in my family, in the face of my Beauties, my husband and my mother. I see my faith, my community...

I'm reminded as always, that we are all saints and sinners.

I see little ones so excited they can't sit still, I see babies sleeping on parents, I see proud grandparents, I see the elderly couples sharing what may be their final Christmas mass together on this earth. I see young love and hearts that hunger for love.

I see Christ in every-face.

The folks who are in church to please, and faces that are in the same pew every Sunday, and I see the beauty of little ones having their first Christmas.

This my fellow Pilgrims is what Christmas is for me... The Community of Saints.

I have but one thought to offer you this Christmas. For those of you searching for a little comfort, for those of you searching the world to find the Divine, for those of you looking for a love to complete you. You already have it.

You see as you search to find the Divine, the Divine is already here. In you and in me. You just have to be willing to open the door, the door that sticks just a bit. To open yourself to the places in your heart you don't feel comfortable opening. That place that you think is dark, scary and unlovable. Because it is that place Pilgrims, that place that you can't imagine love, is where you meet God.

You see there is a similar place in a small and dirty stable in Bethlehem where God chose to share his unending love with us. It's in that stable where Christ became one with us. I often find it surprising that folks don't realize that God is in them, that love is God. That God is joy. That in community we support, we walk together, we serve, we are the face of God to one another and that God is in us.

So as you rush and run, wrap and toil, clean, make the beds and set the table, as you iron the dresses and shirts for your prince and princesses; remember God is with you, in you and around you always. That HIS love shines on us....

Remember that the beautiful translation of the Hebrew word Emmanuel is; "God is with us," and that, is the true meaning of Christmas.

May the light of the Holy Christmas season shine on you and all you love today and always.

Merry Christmas.



Photo Credit: Mr. PilgrimageGal

Advent Candles...

 A long time ago, in a state far, far away...

My Pilgrims, how I miss you. I have been keeping an unbelievable pace since my trip back East at the end of October.  Each and every activity has been filled with many joys... I thought I would take this third week of Advent to share them with you.

Some people call the third week of Advent, "Pink candle week," but its actual name is Gaudete Sunday. The word "Gaudete" comes from Latin which means simply "Rejoice". That seems like a spectacular idea for this post. To offer some hope, some joy and to just rejoice this Advent and Christmas season.  Here are a few of the times thus far, I've been able to "Rejoice" and see the Divine this Advent.

I remember telling Jeff before we had the Beauties, that we wouldn't be "Santa" parents. That we would be raising our children so they would understand that Christ was the ONLY reason for the season. Ian was born in August, the first Christmas card we sent was a photo taken at home with Ian in his baptismal gown. (The gown made by a dear friend from the fabric of my wedding dress.) First year was amazing, I patted myself on the back.

Then along came year two, when Ian was a chubby toddler. I put him on the back of a little tractor with a Santa hat and Christmas tree.  I fell down the Santa hole and haven't turned back.  Both my Beauties believe Santa brings their gifts and that Jesus is what we are celebrating.  Since the second Christmas card, Santa and Christ have been a part of every Christmas... The greatest lesson I have learned with time, and Jeff's patience, is that you can create the Season that offers a multitude of gifts. Not just the ones that you thought you needed. Once again, with the grace of the Divine, I have learned their are oodles of reasons to rejoice this Gaudete Sunday.

As a family, we like having the traditional southern Sunday afternoon dinner, just like the one my grandmother used to host. While I will never master her friend chicken and gravy.... If only. We have created a space where Sunday is for God, family, a little football, and dinner at 4:30. That is Sunday in sunny Cali. Last weekend we were a disaster, all of us going in different directions, and Jeff made the executive decision that what I needed was hot tea, a bowl of soup and my bed. So in lieu of Sunday dinner, Jeff whipped up a kiddo dinner. Our rental cottage is tiny. You can roll over in your bed and all of us can hear you. I was sitting in the living room and Ian was in the kitchen and I heard Ian singing. He was singing the closing song from the family Mass. And he was something! Belting it out from the kitchen. You can hear in some churches the clapping, and swaying and just belting out in song... Ian offered us that from the kitchen.

"Soon and very soon,

We are going to see the King;

Soon and very soon,

We are going to see the King;

Soon and very soon,

We are going to see the King;

Hallelujah, Hallelujah,

We are going to see the King."

I said Ian, you sound great. Ian's reply was a classic. "Mom, I've got an ear-worm and when you have an ear worm... well you just need to sing." An ear worm for all of you who don't know, is that song or commercial that gets stuck in your head and you can't shake it.  As a mother, nothing is more gratifying that hearing that your child has a religious ear-worm stuck...

A classic Advent moment to rejoice.

Last Monday, Norah and I were invited by our dear friends to light the second nights candles of Hanukkah. Norah's classmate and her family are our soulmates, we share the beauty and love of God. Norah and I each got to light the candles of the menorah and to celebrate with joy the miracle of God's unending love.  It is so affirming to share the deep love of faith with good friends. The children singing, playing with the dreidel and of course the yummy food! Our friends were gracious and loving hosts, opening their home to us to love and worship together. It will always be a special part of our Advent season to rejoice and celebrate Hanukkah with such dear friends.

Friday, I met with my prayer group, I made a simple box lunch for each of us and we had some egg nog and prayed together in our special little room at the Mission. Whenever I'm with my little prayer group, it is never lost on me that this was how the early Christians gathered. They ate, prayed and celebrated the joy of small faith communities. Having never visted the Holy Land, living in Santa Barabara often makes me feel closer to the world Christ lived. With our sunshine, the ocean, the terrain filled with fruit and olive trees. Many of my friends who have visited have also commented on the similarities.

But even more, I'm left to realize that in all parts of the world, individuals just like us are gathering to light the candles of Hanukkah, or light an Advent wreath and pray. Many of us take for granted that we can worship in the open.  But, across the globe, far too many worship in places that are not safe, where persecution is the norm, where safety is not guaranteed.

A powerful reminder to be the best of your faith tradition. Don't hide it, wear it with love, honesty and be willing to share your faith, your traditions.  Less fear, more love.

That friends is what is at the heart of a stable in Bethlehem.

My prayer for you is simple, may your face be washed in the love and light of the Divine. May you recognize it and rejoice in all the moments.

Merry Christmas from my family to yours.



Holiday Stress: Red Pens, To-do Lists and Personal Report Cards...

My Wisdom Figure taught me a lesson that I will never forget. She taught me, once you find one of your Gifts, you need to step out of the way and let the Divine teach you how to use it.

You don't control your Gifts, you channel them. Some of you may think that sounds like mumbo-jumbo, but honestly, it is quite simple.  Think about it this way: What is something you are really good at; maybe it's tennis or baking or playing the piano. Have you ever noticed that the days you are super focused on making the perfect cookie, sometimes they just don't turn out right? Other times when you just relax you play, bake, create in a way you never realized. That is exactly what I'm trying to explain... You get out of the way and let God and your Gifts do their stuff. Some call it being in the zone. For me it's simply allowing God to work through you.

I'm trying to do this with PilgrimageGal. Of late I have been trying too hard to find the next door to open. I have been pushing myself and my perfectionist tendencies. I seem unwilling to make the space to listen. I'm sure all of us have this at one time or another. That talent and ability to take out our own red pens (another wisdom figure lesson) and grade our performance. I grade myself unmercifully... I'm sure many of you do the same.  Women especially seem to have a built in self-critical gene.

The dreaded comparison. For women there is no better time of the year to score our own personal report cards than the holidays. The long list of the things we haven't accomplished is so much longer than the list of what we have. AND we are the first to provide ourselves with a failing report. I did that this morning. I slept poorly the last two nights, for a variety of reasons, Norah called me at one am to let me know she was hot! At nearly nine, she still lacks the ability to kick-off or pull on her covers. I will long for these calls when she is in college but; last night I was awake, running the list of my failings and lack of accomplishments; the details I just haven't gotten to; the worries. Who have I forgotten on the Christmas card list? Why can I not get a Christmas wreath on the door? Why haven't I decorated my window boxes? When will I get to shopping for those special little gifts for people? And God help me get them in the mail so they arrive before St. Patrick's Day!

I so long for this Christmas to be perfect.  To make this California Christmas one for the record books; but try as I may, I continue to fail. I also can't seem to keep in mind that we have been in this house for only 20 days! I'm looking for trashcans, my address book and Christmas decorations all at the same time. Still can't find my address book; why on earth did I pack that and not place it in my carry-on!?! Moving in November is a hot mess! But honestly, when is moving not a hot mess?!  I should let a couple of things go... But, I'm not built that way.

For some reason that escapes those who love me. I have a small (or some may say large) issue of focusing on the wrong details. I'm trying to control my Gifts, not using them in the way God has called me to do. I'm holding on to my control so tight, it has literally given me a migraine today.

One of my Gifts, is my home. No matter where Jeff and I have lived we have always been blessed to have guests, family, friends, friends of friends, and a whole cast of characters come through our door. Our home is always the way-station on the journey. You come as you are, put your feet up, eat or drink something and re-group. Sometimes our home is beautifully clean, other times not so much; but the response is always the same. People always find a way to re-charge and they have lovingly shared that story with us time and again. Friends have fallen asleep after dinner in a cozy chair by the fire, we have one special long blinker who can't make it through a movie ever! Others just stay and sit and visit because they are relaxed and happy just chatting. When you come you let go, recharge and renew. You find peace here.  Our home's uniqueness is simple; we long ago made room for the Divine. You know houses like this, I can think of one right off the top of my head, Camp. You may not see God, but you feel the Divine. Most of the time our house is just warm and happy. It's just HOME.  It's not Jeff or the Beauties; nope it's all of us, we have opened our hearts and are allowing God to do the work. We just made the room and got out of the way. 

So this morning, I met myself in bed, and realized I was doing it


again, the furrowed brow, the to-do list that was ridiculous, and scanned my moving box filled disaster of a bedroom. I took a huge breath and channeled my inner Elsa from Frozen, "LET IT GO". I adjusted my eyes and focused on the real stuff. I need to let my home re-charge me. I needed to let the Divine into my heart. I need to allow the space for the Divine to restore me, and then I can channel my energies into the important work of Hebrews 13:2.

"Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels."

Because each and every person who has come through our door has taught me about my journey. They always have given us more than we ever give them and they aren't coming into my home with a red pen to look at my wreath or check out the cleanliness of my fridge. Nope. They are coming to break some bread or a Christmas cookie that may have come from the grocery store! Have a glass of something refreshing, relax from the long journey that has brought them to our door. Each and every visitor is the mirror, to see the Divine working, moving and shinning in our daily life.

It's not about the decorations, dinner, or the presents. Its about making room for the LOVE of the season. That birth in a little town with the stable. That friends, is what this season is about.... Sharing that love. I buy presents to show that love, but the love people really want is the love of our time.

They need our presence... Not our presents. 

So think about your Gift. Maybe you are the piano player of the family or the chief tree decorator, family photographer, storyteller or the best cookie maker. Focus on the one thing that gives you and those who love you, joy this season. AND let the rest of it go.

One final little tip, no one knows what is on you list but you. So find the space and let the Divine restore you... And then let the rest of us delight in your Gifts too!

So as I hydrate, and eat a little soup for this stupid headache, I will sleep well tonight, because I will re-read this post to remind myself that it's not about the stuff.  It's about the people.

The people we are waiting to share our life with every single day.

And the amazing fact that 2,000 years later, we still celebrate the birth of a baby in a manger, and the unconditional love that it represents. 

Peace be with you,


photo credit:





A New Year...

A New Year...

I started off January with a bang... I got my latest Xolair shot and I'm meeting the team at Hopkins in a couple of days.

January begins with a happy and open heart, it was my best Christmas season in years. I attended all the events I had hoped to and felt well for the majority of them.  All seems to be right (or at least better then usual).

January begins some new adventures that I will chronicle here while putting to bed some old ideas...

I feel truly blessed to be in this place at this time.

Take some time to work on your spiritual journey, whatever your faith or beliefs.

There is no greater time then today...