Night Driving

night driveTomorrow afternoon we load up the car — kids, elderly mother, dog, and presents. Lots and lots of presents. Then we head down 75 for 20 hours or so for our annual adventure to visit my mother-in-law in West Palm Beach.

It’s Craig’s annual opportunity to see how many times we can let the house-sitter set off the house alarm. Just in case you’re wondering, the record is 6 in a single day. We had to get a new house sitter after that. Also a new bedroom carpet, which Gretta soiled with the ferocity of a fireman’s hose every time the alarm went off. Good times.

My favorite part of this drive is … the night driving. Late into the night, as one by one the rest of the family nods and dreams, I sit behind the wheel, listening to a book on CD, pounding Diet Coke and Christmas cookies. My personal record is eight hours without a rest stop … with luck, I’ll be able to match it.

With night driving, you don’t have to listen to kids squabble, or play endless rounds of the Alphabet Game, or stop every ten minutes for water and bathroom breaks (you’d think they’d catch on to the fact that the two are directly related after the first twelve stops). No snarky drivers, or traffic jams, or construction pile-ups. Just the hum of the engine, the gentle lull of the reader, and the faint illumination of my husband’s LED screen. It’s pretty perfect, really.

Of course, this doesn’t last for long. Sooner or later, the aroma of Christmas cookies hits the nose of my teenage son, who hones in like a drone (despite the fact that he can’t smell the underwear rotting in his room for months on end). Sarah argues in her sleep, even if no one takes the other end of the debate stick. It’s okay, though. This is what it means to embark on a family adventure.

I wonder if this is what it was like for the Magi as they followed the trail of the star(bucks) toward Bethlehem, to find the newborn King, their camels laden with gifts and provisions and their hearts full of hope.

St. Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar — patron saints of road trips — pray for us.

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Rest in God

sleeping-dogsYesterday the W.I.N.E. blog posted a short article called “Shepherd of My Heart,” about the need every soul has to rest in the mercy of God. (It’s a short, easy read – a slice of life from the Saxton household featuring Maddie, our Aussie shepherd.)

Like any good parent, God is relentless in his love and care for us — perhaps especially when we are struggling. Today’s first reading reminds us of another side of God, the disciplinarian who loves us too much to let us remain ensnared by sin.

Of forgiveness be not overconfident, adding sin upon sin.

Say not: “Great is his mercy;…

My many sins he will forgive.”

For mercy and anger alike are with him;

Upon the wicked alights his wrath.

Delay not your conversion to the LORD,

Put it not off from day to day.

Sirach 5:1-8

None of us knows for sure how much time she has on the  hourglass of life. Life is fleeting and fragile, and eternity is forever. The good news is that God has provided a way for us to rid ourselves of the toxic habits and unwanted burdens we carry, cleansing us in the sacrament of reconciliation and strengthening us in the Eucharist. Those who are sick and suffering can also avail themselves of the graces of the sacrament of anointing, to give them strength for the journey.

We need not fear death. Something greater is in store for each of us if we spend our lifetime following Christ. So rest in God . . . and keep short accounts.

God bless you! Pray for me as I head to Minneapolis for the W.I.N.E. conference on Saturday!

Finding a Quiet Space

hiding boy If you’ve been following along the past week or so, we’ve been on a road trip this week, traveling from Philadelphia to Atlanta (where my parents live) to West Palm Beach (Craig’s mom’s house) with one husband, two kids, an Aussie shepherd, and our German nanny.

About twelve hours into the trip, I looked up from my laptop and discovered everyone on the right side of the van had found their own private space: Christopher had his “Think Geek” Dr. Who “snuggly” over his head, playing DS. Sarah had her bright red one over her head, coloring. And Michi had a jacket over her head, napping.

Now, they didn’t stay this way the whole ride. After about an hour, everyone popped out of their little “hole” and we played another rousing “Alphabet Game” (by far Q and Z are the hardest letters to find on billboards). But watching them enjoy their time “under cover,” I was reminded again why the road trip is such an apt metaphor for parenting. Sometimes, you just have to get away and find a private moment, no matter what it takes … or how silly it looks.

How do you create a little space for yourself when you need a break from family life?”

On Arriving: Thoughts before Christmas

cropped-road-trip.jpg Two days in the car with two kids and a dog. Two days, twelve hours a day.

Suddenly I have a whole new appreciation for what Mary and Joseph must have gone through those final days before the angels sang to the shepherds.

Mary: “Please, honey. Lay off the Diet Coke. My legs are cramping from riding on this blessed donkey, and my ankles are swelling to the size of small watermelons. It’s Bethlehem or bust. NO MORE PIT STOPS!”

Joseph: “Yes, dear. I’ll let my throat parch if you can talk that kid on the next camel into stop whistling that inane tune: ‘100 wineskins of wine on the wall.’ Honestly, one more round and I may have to toss him to the robbers.”

OK, so the Holy Family didn’t have this exchange exactly. After all, they were the perfect couple — the kind that radiated in each other’s sunshine. I’ll bet Joseph never drove Mary crazy by loading up on electronics until the camel blew a fuse, and he never rolled his eyes when Mary couldn’t resist one more cute little trinket from Matzo Barrel.

Our family is not so perfect. We do not practice the virtue of detachment when we travel . . . The other virtues like kindness, neatness, and sweetness get quite a workout as well. And yet, these trips are the stuff of our family history. Years later, the memories are whitewashed and recalled– like the new mother, we forget all about the pain once we hold our loved ones in our arms. (Probably better that way, or there would be no more road trips.)

Halfway through ours, I’d simply like to give thanks for the highlights:

* For parents who are always happy to see us at the end of the road, no matter how late we arrive or how disheveled the house is when we leave.

* For a seven-passenger van, so that the person most in need of solitude can hide in the back seat with a Supersized set of headphones.

* For two kids and a dog who can ride for four days in a car without anyone getting carsick. Even when Sarah bathes in the Justin Bieber perfume Michi’s friend gave her for Christmas (thanks, Matthew).

* For traveling mercies — including the angels that sat on our bumper yesterday, so the Budget truck that swerved into our lane did not hit us (and the SUV in Michi’s blind spot in the next lane sustained only a small dent). It could have been much, much worse.

Merry Christmas, everyone!