The Prayer House

Reconnect with Nature

The Prayer House was built in 1981 near the back of our land.  There have been hundreds of visitors, mostly adults, (lots:  including several middle-school and younger students from Blessed Sacrament).   People can come in the Spring, Summer, and Fall.  There is NO cost. Just email Jeanne Lound Schaller and tell her when you want to come. You can just come for a look to see it and to feel if you want to spend time here. I had several people come for spiritual direction, and that worked well. Also, coming to pray and/or to enjoy the beauty of Mother Nature has been a gift for many. 


“I came only to visit for a few minutes.  I definitely will return.  There is a great peace which envelopes me here.”

“A very peaceful and quiet place where one can be alone with the Lord.  I thank you for your trust in people”

“Nature is my temple and my solitude.  The sound of the poplar leaves –  a deep sense of peace.”

“So beautiful today.  Marvelous to sit and suck up with Mother Nature.”

“I was here with my mom.  Walking and talking.  Breathing and Living.” 


When they walked to the prayer house,  I asked them to go quietly, and they did.

“Here is the place of peace and fun.  The trees dance to music alley in the sun.  The House of Prayer and whisper of trees is peace, harmony and silence. You just want to pray on your knees.”

“I never expected such a small house to hold a big heart and so much diversity.  It’s wonderful.”


Small Faith Group Thoughts

The desire to re-invigorate our Small Faith Group Ministry began back in August of 2021. As a staff, we’ve always been aware that at a parish the size of Blessed Sacrament, it’s often easy to feel like just a number while it can be difficult to take the first steps to joining in the abundant array of ministry and faith formation opportunities offered. When we coupled that hurdle with the fact that we were still battling Covid variants as well as the isolating effects of the pandemic, finding meaningful ways to connect people was a challenge. Because “communion” is central to who we are as Catholics, many of us found the distance and disconnection to be disconcerting, and our hope was that Small Faith Groups would help to bridge the gulf that social distancing had created.

Our theme for the 2022/2023 catechetical year was “We’re Home” which provided the perfect backdrop for the reintroduction of Small Faith Groups. Once it was decided that Lent of 2023 would be our jumping-off point for the initiative, several Lay Ministers and Father Rob met in June and August of 2022 to develop a plan with the help of Kristyn Russell, which included:

  • an explanation and invitation video from Father Rob
  • “A Prayer for Our Home” which we all received and prayed together at Mass on November 12
  •  videos from 7 current small faith group participants
  • an interest survey
  • a “Sign Up Sunday” event

Finally, after eighteen months of discussion and planning, we launched our Lenten Small Faith Group initiative on February 19, 2023. Based on the survey results and the number of people volunteering to facilitate, eight new Small Faith Groups met for the 6 weeks of Lent with 65 parishioners participating. Though the goal was the same for each group, “to make friends and make a difference while growing as disciples”, topics of discussion varied. One group was for caregivers, another focused on meditation, one was a Scripture study, and others used the Mass readings of the week to focus on what it means for them to live their faith in everyday ways.

Help us to create a home where others feel
welcomed…where others are fed.

— A Prayer for Our Home

Feedback from the groups has been overwhelmingly positive! As participants came together to explore their faith, they were surprised by how quickly they grew comfortable with one another and how much they looked forward to the weekly discussion, laughter, and sharing. A highlight for some was the opportunity to pray with one another. Many reported seeing group members at Mass and realizing that this provided a new sense of connection and community for them. It made “big church” not feel quite so big!

Of the eight small groups that started in Lent, 7 are continuing through the Easter season with plans for starting up again in September. The one group that isn’t currently meeting is considering gathering again for Lent next year as a “seasonal” Small Faith Group. If reading this wonderful news about Small Faith Groups makes you wish that you had signed up this Lent, don’t worry! Small Faith Groups aren’t going anywhere. In September, options for joining a group will be advertised, and we will once again be starting new groups for the 6 weeks of Lent 2024.

If you are still on the fence about being part of a Small Faith Group, consider the fact that Jesus wasn’t a “lone ranger.” He could have chosen to travel his faith journey all on his own. If anyone could be successful doing life on his or her own, it would have been Jesus, but instead, he showed us a different way. He gathered a small group and they prayed, ate, and ministered together. Their lives and hearts were changed. It’s exciting to think that being part of a Small Faith Group could do the same for each of us as well!

Written by Lyn Pajk

Director of Faith Formation

Lyn Pajk has been a member of our Blessed Sacrament Parish Family for 21 years and a member of the Faith Formation team for 13 years. During that time she has ministered to elementary families, middle school families, and currently serves as the Coordinator of Adult Formation and as Team Leader. Her ministry focuses on providing opportunities for people to encounter Jesus in their daily lives, reflect on how that encounter changes them, and how they can live out their call as Catholic Christians in the world.

Ways to Pray Series: The Rosary

The season of Lent is a great time to get reacquainted with one of the most identifiably Catholic of Catholic prayers… The rosary!

I remember praying the rosary with my grandma.  My grandma’s devotion to the Blessed Mother was very personal.  Mary was her friend and companion, and she would talk to Mary during the day.  Her rosary was a prayer, but it was also a comfort just to have in her hands or her pocket or her purse.  I recently discovered this quote from Padre Pio, and I feel like it perfectly summed up the way my grandma felt about her rosary… and the way I have come to feel too. 

“In times of darkness, holding the rosary beads is like holding your Blessed Mother’s hand.”

I have a blue cord rosary that I keep in my pocket a lot of the time.  It’s been accidentally washed more than once!  Sometimes, just having it on me, just reaching into my pocket to touch it, is a reminder that Mary is with me… and my grandma too! There is a multitude of resources, both print and digital, about how to pray the rosary and what the mysteries of the rosary are (try this one from USCCB.  And if you’re interested in rosary history, there are a few good resources for that too, like this one from Franciscan Media.

And I just love this recording from Irish priest Fr. Kevin and his sister-in-law Dana:

The Joyful Mysteries
The Sorrowful Mysteries
The Glorious Mysteries
The Luminous Mysteries

I’m not going to reinvent the wheel.  Instead, I’m going to share with you a couple of the ways I make my rosary more meaningful.  Sometimes, it’s difficult to keep my mind from wandering as I pray.  St. Teresa of Avila said of herself, “This intellect is so wild that it doesn’t seem to be anything else than a frantic madman no one can tie down.” I guess I’m in good company!

So here are a few of my strategies for keeping my mind on track as I pray:

When I meditate on the mysteries of the rosary, I like to imagine myself as a bystander or minor character in the scene, like a bridesmaid at the wedding at Cana, or a Jerusalem resident along the Way of the Cross.  Sometimes I like to think about a quality of one of the people in the scene I would like to emulate and ask God’s help in making me more full of awe like Peter, James, and John at the Transfiguration, or more patient like Simeon at the Presentation at the Temple. 

When I pray the Hail Marys, I divide each one into three parts: the Annunciation part, the Visitation part, and the Petition part.  As I pray the words, I imagine one of the many beautiful artworks of the Annunciation, then of the Visitation, then of Mary in prayer.  (Just google “Annunciation images” for ideas!)

I imagine Gabriel speaking to Mary…

…and Elizabeth speaking to Mary…

I try to use inflection when I pray the words, speaking with the awe and reverence Gabriel and Elizabeth would have felt to be in the presence of the Mother of God.  Elizabeth wouldn’t have said, “blessedartthouamongwomen…” but “BLESSED art thou among women!  And BLESSED is the fruit of thy womb!” 

I’ve found that The Hail Mary is beautifully rhythmic, and I’ll concentrate on the rhythm as I say the words, aligning my breaths to the phrases. 

Hail Mary (inhale)
Full of grace, (exhale)
The Lord is with thee (inhale)
Blessed art thou (exhale)
Among women (inhale)
And blessed is the fruit (exhale)
Of thy womb, Jesus (inhale)

Holy Mary, (exhale)
Mother of God, (inhale)
Pray for us sinners, (exhale)
Now and at the hour (inhale)
Of our death, (exhale)


I almost always fall asleep praying the rosary.  Concentrating on aligning my breaths to the rhythm of the Hail Marys and imagining the scenes of the Annunciation and the Visitation keeps my brain from the thoughts that overrun it at the end of the day and keep me from sleep.  St. Thérèse compared herself falling asleep during the Rosary to a child falling asleep in her Father’s lap while talking to Him.  Some say that our guardian angels finish our prayers as we sleep.  I love to imagine my guardian angel finishing my rosary over me as I dream. 

My sweet grandma died just over five years ago.  Huntington’s Disease slowly stole her body and her mind from her.  In her last years, deliberate movement and thought became difficult and then impossible.  But her hand never forgot how to move in the sign of the cross, and her constant mantra was, “I’m so happy.” 

Written by Corinne Cathcart

Corinne Cathcart has been a parishioner at Blessed Sacrament since her family moved to Midland nine years ago. She’s served as catechist, lector, and Eucharistic minister, and during the 2019-2020 year, she served as Coordinator of Sacramental Preparation. Back in Cincinnati, her hometown, she taught second grade at a Catholic school and served as catechist, lector, and Eucharistic minister at her home parish. She’s the mom of a computer-programming, tuba-playing, robot-building freshman at Midland High and the wife of a football-loving, Dow Chemical-working guy she met 25 years ago at Ohio State! When she’s not at church, you’ll probably find her with a book in her hand or singing along to her favorite playlist while she stirs up something new in the kitchen!

Ways to Pray Series: Labyrinth

As it says in Exodus chapter 3:1-5. Moses was tending his flock near the mountain of God called Horeb. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that….. though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight —why the bush does not burn up.” When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, Moses! Moses! And Moses said, “Here I am.”

The Labyrinth is a part of our Catholic tradition found in some of the European churches as early as the 4th century. They served as a pilgrimage for those pilgrims who couldn’t travel far from home. They could make a pilgrimage with God in their heart. It is also found in the Native American, Judaism, and Celtic traditions. It is a form of silent prayer where we listen to the still small voice of God.….

If we learn to love the earth, we will find labyrinths, gardens, fountains and precious jewels! A whole new world will open itself to us. We will discover what it means to be truly alive.

St. Teresa of Avila

The labyrinth represents your life with its mysterious turns. At the center of this journey is your soul where you can meet God and tell your story. Some doors will be opened and some entries will become closed, opening a space for new energy in your life to develop. Sometimes when we walk the labyrinth we choose to stand on a threshold, pondering, reflecting waiting for some answers. Know that our loving God is walking next to you seeking and searching with you…. sometimes you may even feel carried by God.

This cloth holds the energy of all who have walked here and will keep the energy of many in the future. Symbolically it represents a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Jerusalem. And, it can represent, the desert, the pilgrimages of old, the steps that the apostles took before us, or the road to Emmaus. I invite you to imagine where you would be as you enter into this journey.

Just pause for a moment and breathe into this space, the kingdom of heaven is here right now. We are present with the communion of saints those who have gone before us. Those who have walked a pilgrimage around the world..… I invite you all to begin walking on this Holy ground in your mind or outdoors.

Remove your shoes and enter when you are willing. This Labyrinth represents your life and the relationships in your life. As you walk along the path it may remind you of the turns that your life has taken. Some of those turns may have evoked fear, some may have led you down a path that you never dreamed would happen to you. All of your life has meaning with GOD and together you co-create your best self. As you pass people along the way you may stop and acknowledge them and gently step aside so you both can pass on your journey. You may also feel that you want to stop at a certain place
because you feel a sensation in your body, a thought comes through that you want to reflect on, or emotion wells up in your heart. There is no judgment, no reaction, no resistance, no retreating… just love, holding space with unconditional love.

As you make the turns in the Labyrinth you will reach the center which represents your soul with God. “The burning bush, The great “I AM” Stay here if you would like, sit here, prayer here, bask in the LOVE OF GOD, Allow the flames of the Holy Spirit, “the tears of fire” as Catherine of Sienna called them, to warm your soul.

Through Divine grace: We are still, calm, quiet, whole, loving, gentle, earthy, serene, faithful, blessed, relaxed, trusting, humble, beloved,
forgiven, mystical, merciful, prayerful… And meditative. Were are visionary, conscious, embodied, undistracted, contemplative,
compassionate, presence, wisdom, delight, silence, peace, joy, and love.

By Divine grace “we are……”

Written by Jean Theile

Jean is a long-time member of Blessed Sacrament. She has been a geriatric nurse practitioner for 30 years and a spiritual director for 6 years.

Ways to Pray Series: Music


Why is music so powerful? Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said music is the universal language of humanity, and I believe it is the language of God. From melodies that lift our minds to heaven to lyrics that move us to beats that mimic our heartbeats, God has left a song in the world.  

Because I think music is the language of God, in my imagination, God created the world through song. This is probably why one of my favorite stories is the creation story from The Magician’s Nephew in the Chronicles of Narnia series. 

In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to song. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he has ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it… 

Then two wonders happened at the same moment. One was that the voice was suddenly joined by the other voices; more voices than you could possibly count. There were in harmony with it, but far higher up the scale: cold, tingling, silvery voices. The second wonder was that the blackness overhead, all at once, was blazing with stars. They didn’t come out gently one by one, as they do on a summer evening. One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand, thousand points of light leapt out – single stars, constellations, and planet, brighter and bigger than any in our world. There were no clouds. The new stars and the new voices began at exactly the same time. If you had seen and heard it, as Digory did, you would have felt quite certain that it was the stars themselves which were singing, and that it was the First Voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing… 

Then the Voice on the earth was now louder and more triumphant; but the voices in the sky, after singing loudly with it for a time, began to get fainter. And now something else was happening. 

Far away, and down near the horizon, the sky began to turn grey. A light wind, very fresh, began to stir. The sky, in that one place, grew slowly and steadily paler. You could see shapes of hills standing up dark against it. All the time the Voice went on singing… 

The eastern sky changed from white to pink and fro pink to gold. The Voice rose and rose, till all the air was shaking with it. And just as it swelled to the mightiest and most glorious sound it had yet produced, the sun arose. 

Digory had never seen such a sun… You could imagine that it laughed for joy as it came up. And as its beams shot across the land the travellers could see for the first time what sort of place they were in. It was a valley through which a broad, swift river wound its way, flowing eastward towards the sun. Southward there were mountains, northward there were lower hills. But it was a valley of mere earth, rock, and water; there was not a tree, not a bush, not a blade of grass to be seen. The earth was of many colors: they were fresh, hot and vivid. They made you feel excited; until you saw the Singer himself, and then you forgot everything else. It was a Lion. Huge, shaggy, and bright, it stood facing the risen sun. 

The Magician’s Nephew

In the story, the Lion, Aslan, goes on to create plants, mute animals, and talking animals. He goes on to create Narnia through his song. Can’t you imagine God similarly creating our world? The Word sings out “Let there be light!” and lo and behold, the stars spring to life, or the sun rises with a bright smile. The song of creation continues to resonate within our souls today: 

We hear this song in the melodies of the birds.
We hear this song in the pitter-patter of rain against windows.
We hear this song in the groan of the wind.
In the laughter of a child.
In the mourning cry of a family. 

Music is the universal language.  

St. Augustine said, “to sing is to pray twice.” Music and song connect us to God in a special way. If you’re just beginning to pray with music—the psalms are a great place to start. There are 150 psalms to choose from, and each one is a song for the Lord. Each one is a song that captures, not only the human experience but our relationship with God.  

So, how do we pray with music? Here are five steps: 

  1. Choose your song. 

If you have no idea where to begin, the psalms are a great place to start. Other suggestions might be your favorite hymn from church or a contemporary praise and worship song. Maybe you heard a song in the car that resonated with you and you would like to take it to prayer. The sky is the limit. *Optional- get the lyrics and follow along. You can jot down notes or underline words/phrases/stanzas that speak to you.* 

  1. Take a few deep breaths. 

Once your song is queued up, take a few deep breaths. *Optional- light a candle. * Center yourself and prepare your body, mind, and soul for prayer. 

  1. Enter into the song. 

Push play and enter into the song. Listen to the lyrics, follow the melody, and feel the rhythm. If you have the lyrics, note what speaks to you the most. *Optional- this is also a great time to have your prayer journal with you.* 

  1. Sing along or don’t. 

To sing is to pray twice so sing along if you feel moved to! 

  1. Let the music lead you into a conversation with God. 

You might have to put the song on repeat… talk to God about what the song said to you, what stood out to you, and then spend some time with an open heart and mind listening to God’s response. 

Ready to give it a try? Here are some songs to get you started! 

A Thanksgiving Approach

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.”
Revelation 7:12

The holiday season is upon us! From now until 2023, we enter into the marathon of holidays. For many of us, this means parties, meals, company, shopping, presents, preparation, and maybe even a little bit (or a lot) of stress.

Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday season on November 24. This is the day where we gather together with loved ones to express our gratitude for all the blessings we receive, eat a delicious meal, watch the Lions lose, I mean play, maybe take a nap, and possibly even start to think about some Christmas shopping. In all honesty, sometimes that gratitude portion is put on the back-burner or skipped over all together in the hustle and bustle of the day.

It’s not that we AREN’T grateful, of course we are! But, do we take the time to name what we’re grateful for? Do we take time to voice and identify the ways we are blessed? Or do we get caught up in the day—making last minute preparations, watching parades or football, eating so much turkey that we wake up from our post meal nap in a haze?

If that sounds like your day, don’t worry—there’s nothing wrong with making the last minute preparations (someone has to do it!), watching parades and football, or even eating so much turkey that you’re hazy after your nap! Embrace those traditions and whatever other traditions you and your loved ones established for this day because those are important too. However, I challenge you (and myself) to carve out some time on turkey day to sit and reflect on what you’re grateful for, who you’re grateful for, and let God know how thankful you are for them, and let those people who you are grateful for know how much they mean to you.

If we approach Thanksgiving with grateful hearts bursting with the knowledge of how blessed we are and voice those blessings, it will make all the traditions of the day, all the company of the day, all the more special.

So, start today – For what and for whom are you grateful for this Thanksgiving? Name those blessings. Voice those blessings.

Make this holiday season special by approaching it with a grateful heart.

Prayer Before a Thanksgiving Meal

Good and gracious God,

You have blessed us in ways unimaginable and we are grateful!

You have given us people to love and who love us and we are grateful!

We come together today to celebrate you and the ways your have blessed us.

We ask that you bless our Thanksgiving meal and all the hands that prepared it, that it might nourish us.

We ask that you bless our conversations, that they might nourish our relationships with one another.

We ask that you bless our memories, especially of those who have joined you in eternal life, that they might live on in our celebrations.

We pray in a special way for all those who do not have enough to eat or those who are alone today, that they might be comforted.

We rejoice in your abundant goodness and thank you!

We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen!

The Synodal Process

The Synodal Process

Catholics around the world are embarking on the synodal process. But what is that? Honestly, it sounds like a medical procedure — probably a diagnostic one at that — full of pain and uncertainty. Actually, that is not a bad analogy for what the global Catholic Church is undertaking.

Pope Francis asks us to reflect on the Church by “journeying together and reflecting together on the journey that has been made, the Church will be able to learn through her experience which processes can help her to live communion, achieve participation, to herself to mission” (Preparatory Document, no. 1). We are looking at what works, what is not working in the Church– the Body of Christ. The process is absolutely diagnostic, but instead of being physically tested, we’re examining the spirit of the Church through our spirits, our experiences.

Think about our wins and struggles.

The main questions we are asking through this process are “How is the Church journeying with you well?” AND “How has the Church not journeyed with you well?” This requires that we take time to think about our lives. Think about our successes and our failures; our joys and our sorrows; our wins and struggles. This requires that we dive deep into our interior lives. This also requires that we examine these feelings, these experiences with the Holy Spirit. We must allow the Holy Spirit to enter into this process lest we become bitter from the failings of the Church or create a false narrative of the wins of the Church. The Holy Spirit will help us to examine our experiences within the context of the Church.

Where did the Church journey well with us? Well, did we allow the Church to journey with us? Did we feel as if we could allow the Church to journey with us or that the Church wanted to journey with us? These are the hard questions, but coming up with diagnoses and treatment plans is often painful and uncertain.

Guess what the wildest part of this whole process is? Pope Francis asks this of all of us. Not just the bishops, not just the priests, not just me, but my neighbor, my coworker, the person who sits next to me at Mass, the person who has been hurt by the Church, the person who has been ignored by the Church, the person who doesn’t see the point of the Church. We’re all called to this self-examination. The next step is the most important: listen.

Listen to these stories that your neighbors, your sisters and brothers, are sharing. Rejoice with them in their successes. Cry with them in their heartbreak. Sit with them in their disdain for the Church. Be with them in the hurt they carry because of the Church.

We’re so quick to justify, condemn, judge the experiences that aren’t our own, or that are contrary to what we know and believe. When faced with hard questions about difficult topics we think a simple FAQ document regurgitating Church teaching or the thoughts of the Church Fathers is enough. It isn’t. Pope Francis knows this and he wants the rest of us to know it too.

We’ll know it by listening to the Holy Spirit and to one another.

We’ll know it by listening to the Holy Spirit and to one another. In a world that feels more fractured and broken than ever, I think the synodal process is exactly what we need. This is an opportunity to look at ourselves, to listen to our neighbors, and become more fully the Church– the Body of Christ. Whole. Unbroken. Glorified.

Getting Hands-On with Jesus

Getting Hands-On with Jesus

The donkey in the creche of my growing up years has tottered to Bethlehem on three legs for over forty years, the cow’s nose chipped off long ago in a skirmish with a sheep, Mary’s hand has been inexplicably amputated, and the Baby Jesus sleeps cradled on a wad of cotton in a cardboard match box. The Christmas miracle was that my mother, a definitive type A for whom things needed to be perfect, was so happy to see us playing with the Holy Family that she merely glued the porcelain pieces together, shrugged off the lost causes, and found an substitute for the Christ Child’s crib. I love that Nativity Scene—so many happy hours hands-on with Jesus. So, when Mark and I got married, I knew I wanted our Nativity Scene to be child-friendly, just in case.

It was a wise decision.

The Christmas Maddie was a year old, she was enamored with the Nativity Scene, but not the baby Jesus or His parents. Not even the angels with their magical wings. Instead she toddled all over our apartment with the animals making their corresponding sound. The cow mooed in the bathtub, the horse neighed in her crib, the sheep baaed while I prepared dinner. She loved all the animals, except the camel remained undisturbed at the edge of the manger.

But then my husband demonstrated how camels spit.

After that, as soon as we rolled her stroller back into the apartment from an outing, she’d scream bloody murder for her freedom. As quick as we could get the buckle was undone, she’d wobble as fast as she could, still fully layered in her coat, hat, and mittens, to the Nativity Scene to be reunited with the camel. And to start spitting. Which she did endlessly, all over the apartment, and all over the city, anywhere she spotted a camel in a Nativity display. The act always cracked her up, so our abode was extra merry that holiday season.

The Nativity Scene continued to fascinate her, and the year her brother Joseph was born, it took on a new dimension. Suddenly she had a real baby Jesus, even if he did sit in a bouncy seat instead of lie in the manger. Maddie was always Mary, and she usually appointed her dad as Joseph. (On very rare occasions, Mark would be told to just watch and “Joseph Joseph rather than Bible-Joseph” would play the “daddy” from his bouncy seat perch.)

She’d put the miniature donkey from the creche between her knees and hobble to Bethlehem (our living room) with Mark, his head draped in a kitchen towel, by her side. In Bethlehem, Maddie would give birth as a baby doll was midwifed from under her shirt. That baby was immediately tossed into a corner, so her brother could assume the role, kicking in excitement. The six-inch tall shepherds and their tiny sheep would be moved from the pasture (the hallway) to adore the fat baby who kicked so enthusiastically in his bouncy manger. The miniature wisemen and their camels would come from the East (the fireplace), inching slowly across the hearth, always with a stop for their gift of mince pies for the actress who portrayed Mary.

Maddie cried when we packed the Nativity Scene away.

The following year, the Nativity Scene was dusted off as usual, but other wonders of the season had begun to encroach on the magic of the stable. In an actual Nativity Play that year, Maddie’s time that season was spent practicing her wing flapping and belting out Christmas carols. The hard resin wings of our Nativity Scene angel just didn’t hold the same allure as gauzy appendages of her own. Joseph followed his big sister around devotedly, and as she didn’t often pause in front of the manger in our hallway, neither did he.

For a few years, the Baby stayed in His crib the whole of Advent and Christmas, the shepherds didn’t misplace any sheep, and the camels remained silent. It made me a little sad, and I wondered if Joseph would ever be as entranced by the Nativity Scene as his sister had.

I shouldn’t have worried.

The year Joseph was four, the moment the Nativity Scene emerged from its box, he was hooked. He spent hours moving the pieces around and making up stories, just as I had done as a child. The shepherds occasionally parachuted in to the birth, the sheep slid down the steep pitch of the roof to the general vicinity of the crib, and the wisemen were often poised to topple like dominoes, landing at the foot of the Holy Infant. After bedtime every night, I would reassemble the scene into a more traditional tableau. The act satisfied my own type A tendencies and allowed me to track down any missing pieces.

As the excitement of Christmas drew closer, bedtime became increasingly trying. There was just too much fun to be had to waste time sleeping. One night, I poured a much-needed glass of wine and wandered over to the Nativity Scene to begin the nightly cleanup. I had to laugh. Bob the Builder and his sidekick Wendy were gathered with the shepherds to gaze at the Baby, and the digger Scoop was positioned near the cow, his bucket poised high in the air. Taking a sip of wine, I began to remove the colorful cartoon cast while humming Bob’s theme song.

“No, Mommy, no!” rang out behind me. I whirled around. There stood my son, all pj-ed up but no longer in bed, looking very alarmed. His eyes fixated on the characters in my hands.

“Oh,” I said airily, waving Bob and crew around. “I’m just moving Bob and his friends so Jesus can get a good night sleep. You can play with them all tomorrow.”

“But, Mommy,” Joseph said anxiously. “Jesus needs Bob and Scoop!”

I must have looked puzzled, so Joseph elaborated, “to help Him keep the stable clean!”

Whatever words had been on my lips—probably “get back in bed”—died, and I looked at the figurines in my hand and then at the stable in front of me. Joseph was right.

Jesus could use Bob and friends, just as He can use any of us. I turned back to my son and held out my palms.

“I think you’re right, Buddy,” I agreed. “Let’s put these guys back in the manger, and then I’ll tuck you back into bed.”

Solemnly, Joseph took the brightly colored characters from me, walked over to the manger, and carefully placed each one in the location best suited for their job. Then he turned to me and raised his arms. As I picked him up, he nestled his head against my shoulder, and whispered, “Good night, Jesus,” followed by our nightly refrain, “I love you to the moon and back.”

After I tucked Joseph in again, I dimmed the lights in the living room, switched on the Christmas tree, and stood in front of the Nativity Scene. Somehow, even type A me had to admit it looked a little more real with Bob, Wendy, and Scoop there. I thought back to all the varied use the Nativity Scene had gotten and smiled. The characters in the tableau had once been living, breathing creatures. Surely the cow had mooed during the birth, and the horse had kept the Baby awake with its incessant neighing. I bet that toddler Jesus was as delighted as Maddie had been to learn camels spit. He might have even practiced spitting Himself!

Beginning that long-ago night in Bethlehem, God wanted us to be hands-on with Jesus—even if it meant the scene wouldn’t stay picture-perfect. Even if it meant the wisemen brought gifts of mince pies to Mary, the shepherds had to share the stage with cartoon characters of the future, and Jesus wound up sleeping in a cardboard matchbox. That is exactly why He came.

Written by Ansley Dauenhauer



Advent and Christmas are seasons filled with many beautiful traditions. Like most families, ours has several that add richness and meaning to our celebrations. One such tradition in the Pajk house is to set up the Advent wreath and manger scene on the first Sunday of Advent. The Advent wreath sits in the middle of the dinner table with a copy of “The Little Blue Book” next to it, and each evening before dinner, we light the appropriate candles and read the reflection of the day. The manger scene is always the focal point in our family room with all of the figures placed in their designated spots. Mary and Joseph staring at an empty manger with ox and donkey sleeping nearby, the shepherds and sheep on the mantle overlooking the scene below, the magi and camel journeying from a table somewhere to the “east”, and baby Jesus unceremoniously stuffed into the hayloft until Christmas morning.

Probably sixteen years or so ago, when the three Pajk boys (our own version of the three “wise” men) were young, we decided to add a twist to the tradition. Instead of stuffing poor baby Jesus in the hayloft, we thought it might be fun for the kids to take turns hiding him around the house, searching for him, and hiding him in a new location until Christmas morning when he would be found and placed in the manger under Mary and Joseph’s expectant and loving gazes. It was a game of hide-and-seek and hide again, in which the boys were eager to participate because whomever found Jesus had the fun of hiding him for the next round with the only rule being that he had to be hidden on the first floor of the house.

Jesus went MIA…

For the first week or so, Jesus was hidden and found with regularity until one day, Jesus went MIA. It had been our 5 year old, Luke’s, turn to hide Jesus, and his two big brothers, and Mom and Dad, couldn’t find him anywhere! Only Luke knew the secret spot and he certainly wasn’t going to divulge the location to those of us searching. After a few days, we mostly gave up looking, hoping that Luke would just make sure that we had Jesus for the manger on Christmas morning. Yes, I realize, that is a lot of hope and trust to place in the reliability of a Kindergartner’s memory, but what’s a busy mom to do?

Sometime, though, during the third week of Advent, while I was lighting the candles on the Advent wreath before dinner, I noticed something tucked inside the edge of the wreath that I hadn’t previously noticed. Was it a pinecone from the wreath or a bit of leftover dinner from the night before? NOPE, it was the elusive BABY JESUS! For over a week, Jesus was right there in the middle of our dinner table where we gathered every night as a family and somehow we overlooked him. Jesus was in our midst, and in our busyness, we failed to recognize his presence.

During Advent, we prepare our hearts to celebrate three different “comings” of Jesus…

During Advent, we prepare our hearts to celebrate three different “comings” of Jesus; when God first came to dwell among us as one of us, the second coming of Jesus at the end of time, and all of the ways, big and small that God reveals himself to us every day. When Luke hid that figurine in the Advent wreath, he didn’t realize that he would be teaching us an important lesson: Slow down. Open your eyes. Jesus is in your midst, even when you aren’t looking for him!  It’s not just GOOD NEWS, but the BEST kind of news, that the One who created us and loves us is present to us in our families, friends and strangers, and is dwelling within our very hearts. Do we take the time to recognize that presence within us, within those we know and love as well as those we don’t yet know and love? Truly, Christmas is the powerful reminder of EMMANUEL, GOD WITH US, but God isn’t just with us on this day or during this season, but in every moment of every day! Merry Christmas!

Winter… Advent… Christmas… – it’s a season of simplicity.  

Winter… Advent… Christmas… – it’s a season of simplicity.

Ha! Really? Then why are we so busy, busy, busy, like the magician in Frosty the Snowman?

Is it because we have so many expectations of what we need to do for Christmas?  But aren’t these also the expectations of family and society? I think a disillusioned Charlie Brown asks a very pertinent question,  “What is Christmas all about?”.  Every year that simple show never fails to bring tears to my eyes.  The Incarnation, in all its incredible, stupendous, marvelous, awesome simplicity: God became one of us, born of a simple young woman, in a quiet little town, in an unadorned barn.  Only the angels knew enough to sing Alleluia and Glory to God in the Highest.

Advent really is about simplicity.

It is hard to uncomplicate what we have complicated – we have our expectations of what ‘the perfect Christmas’ should look like.  And it’s gotten far worse with social media and Pinterest, because obviously everyone else is having a perfect Christmas.   But deep inside are we longing for the simple, peaceful  beauty of a Currier and Ives Christmas scene?   I am reminded of a quote by Eddie Cantor: “Slow down and enjoy life.  It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast – you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.”  Advent really is about simplicity: a time of expectant, hopeful and joyful waiting. Nothing complicated about waiting.  While we wait, we prepare.  Okay, certainly more strenuous, tiring, but there is time to be still, time for quiet contemplation –  if we choose to take it.

What are our hearts really yearning for?  What makes us smile and sigh with contentment?  The simple things: cooking with family and friends, the sounds of laughter and talking, sitting by the fire and watching the flames*, going out on a cold, starry night for Evening Prayer, sitting by the window watching the snow fall and the birds in the shrubs, soup and bread by candlelight, stopping by a friend’s house for a cup of tea and a chat, little acts of love we give or receive, stopping for a moment to look out the window before you head to bed for a moment of silence and a prayer of thanksgiving to close the day.  And all those expectations of perfection?  Well, Jesus was born into our imperfect world to leave us one simple command: love one another as He loves us.  It’s the blanket of sparkling snow that covers all the imperfections of our lives.

Take time to savor the simple, beautiful moments.

Don’t let the simple beauty of this season go unnoticed, unappreciated, or unexperienced.  Take time to savor the simple, beautiful moments.  Hold the Christ-child in the rocking chair of your hearts and soak in the love, breathe in the peace, feel the joy settling in your soul.  We wish you a simple, peaceful and very merry Christmas!

*If you need a fireplace this is an open invitation to come over any time and we’ll make the fire, put on the hot tea/chocolate or pop a cork!