En Avant Pour L’Avent, Week 1: My BFF Jesus

As you begin to read this post, you probably have two burning questions:

Q. WHERE THE HECK HAVE YOU BEEN, VICKY? IT’S BEEN OVER A MONTH!

A. I firmly believe that November is the most jam-packed month of the year. Yes, even busier than December. It’s like the world needs to cram all the non-holiday-related obligations into November to make room for all the bustle of the Christmas season. So yeah, between teaching, lesson planning, and a little traveling, I’ve been busy. I’m sorry. 😦 But I’m hoping that this Advent will give me more time to write, which brings me to …

Q. Why is the title of this post in French, and what does it mean?

A. This past Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent, and as usual, I went to the messe des jeunes — youth evening mass — in town. A seminarian there was wearing a bright green rubber bracelet that said “En Avant Pour L’Avent,” which roughly translates to “All ready for Advent!” It’s catchier in French, in my humble opinion.

I thought it would be a great title for my Advent series on this blog. The season of Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of the infant Jesus at Christmas … so what does that mean? Around this time, people start, or have already made, their Christmas game plans: when the parties are, what decorations need to be put up, and “Gosh, I need to remember to get a gift for my boss’ secretary’s assistant’s kid.” It’s easy to go into Advent without a spiritual game plan and try to squeeze in time for Mass between shopping sprees.

This year, I really wanted to use Advent to grow closer to Jesus, to more deeply understand His love for me, and ultimately, to make Him my best friend.

In many chastity talks for women I’ve seen, the speaker talks about making Jesus the love of your life, the man who satisfies you before anyone else. This is something I’ve been trying to do for a long time now, and I’d get frustrated when I would examine my conscience and think, “Nope, I still want a husband more than I want Jesus.” I didn’t know how to fix this, and I knew I couldn’t force myself to love Jesus in that way, even though He already had that love times infinity for me.

I got a hint two weeks ago at the messe de jeunes. I absolutely LOVE this Mass! The musicians and the lectors are all high school and college students, the priests are generally younger and more energetic, and it reminds me so much of Mass at my American college. I felt right at home after my first youth Mass, and I started going to Wednesday evenings at the aumônerie, or religious education center, where I met a ton of welcoming and fun French Catholic students. Whenever I went to Sunday Mass or to a Wednesday meeting, I was sure of seeing a lot of people I knew who would come up to me and say “Salut!” and kiss me on both cheeks (faire la bise).

Two weeks ago, I walked into the church, and knew nobody. I don’t know what was going on that week, but all my new acquaintances at the aumônerie, and even a Catholic teacher I was becoming good friends with, weren’t there.

Those of you who know me personally know that I like people. I can have my introverted moments, but for the most part, I find God most often in other people. At this moment, I had no people, so there was no faith, no community, no joy. I turned bitter. I was uncivil to the people who did look my way and say “Bonsoir.” I was sorely disappointed; I had needed a Catholic community and there was none to be seen.

At some point, a voice spoke in my heart, “There is still Jesus.” There, right in front of me, on the altar, was my Savior, who had given up His life — His guiltless, blameless life — for me, a sinner. John 15:13 says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” We often see Jesus as a Lord, or a Master, not a friend. But He desires to be our friend! No one knew this better than Saint Teresa of Avila, who wrote, “For prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God.”

This Advent season, I am working to build that friendship with Jesus. In seeking to make Jesus the love of my life, I had forgotten that the greatest and longest-lasting love stories begin when a beautiful friendship blossoms into something more. Jesus did not give His life on the Cross without spending time with His disciples and the people He ministered to, teaching them, breaking bread with them, and healing them. A relationship with God doesn’t just happen; we need to cultivate it.

So here is my Advent Game Plan. I hope it will inspire you to write your own:

1. Read the Bible chapter mentioned in the daily verse on my Advent calendar.

2. Do the daily reflection in my “Five Minutes with the Word” booklet. (Thanks, Catholic community care package!)

3. Confession at least once and Mass as often as possible.

4. Journaling, with the intention of filling up my five-year-old journal before Christmas.

5. Bringing my problems to prayer before sharing them with anyone else.

Stay tuned for more Advent updates! This weekend, I will be going on a retreat at a very special location. It’s going to be awesome. Know that I am praying for you this Advent season.

Bisous!

– Vicky

What’s your Advent Game Plan? Tell me in the comments!

A Postcard from … Freeport, Maine

Bonne année, mes amis! Happy New Year, friends! The semester and the holiday madness are over, so now I get to give you guys some updates!

I spent last weekend in Freeport, Maine for a family reunion. This is the third year (not in a row!) that my dad’s family has had its Christmas shindig in Maine. My uncle, who lives there, has rented the same house on the bay every year, although this year, we had to rent two houses because there were almost 30 of us! Yep, it’s a party.

The Basics: Freeport is located on Casco Bay and is nicknamed “The Birthplace of Maine.” Today, it’s best known for its outlet shopping, which may make travel snobs groan, but many of the stores are housed in historical buildings, such as the Abercrombie and Fitch outlet that lives in the former public library. (I’m not thrilled about it either, but at least they preserved a historical site and Freeport still has a community library.) In 1912, Leon Leonwood Bean opened his first store in Freeport Corner, one of the four original villages that developed into the town. The L.L. Bean flagship store and corporate headquarters are still located in Freeport. If you’re like my dad and hours of shopping make you cringe, the town is also home to Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park, which offers the most beautiful sunrise ever over Casco Bay.

Vicky’s Itinerary: I didn’t get to do too much tourism as I was, you know, doing family stuff. However, I will share with you a few highlights, starting with waking up at 6:30 a.m. on Friday with my grandma to catch the sunrise.

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This is the view from the first-floor dining room in the second, smaller house I was staying in. You can’t argue with this!

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The backyard of the main(e) house. Ha ha. Puns.

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I caught the sunset later from the other house. Gorgeous, right?

And after a day or two of Christmas presents and pierogis — in case you can’t tell, it’s my Polish side — my immediate family hit Main Street for some shopping!

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A view of the L. L. Bean flagship store from Linda Bean’s Maine Kitchen and Topside Tavern, founded by Leon’s granddaughter. The store has a gigantic sculpture of the famous Maine Hunting Shoe (aka the Bean Boot, not pictured.) I got my first pair of brown Bean Boots on my first trip to Freeport in 2010.

And of course, you can’t leave Maine without a nice hot bowl of …

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… CHOWDA! This bowl I had at Linda Bean’s, but there are several clam chowder and lobster places lined along Main Street. In the great debate of chowda, I am so Team New England. Sorry, Manhattan.

Hidden Treasure: Need a shopping pick-me-up? WALK PAST THE STARBUCKS. WALK PAST IT. Continue down Main Street in the opposite direction of L.L. Bean, and about 800 feet away, you’ll see a sign shaped like a donut. It’s Frosty’s Donuts, which has made hand-cut donuts since 1965. My favorite is the maple cream donut. Mmmmm.

Stay tuned for more Postcards From … as I travel in 2014!

A plus tard!

Vicky