Those who plan for arrival reap the rewards

This Christmas I did not compose a newsletter, nor did I get Christmas cards out, nor did I begin shopping until Dec. 22. However, I have never felt so accomplished.

This year I finally beat the flower ladies.

At my church, we have a sorority of incredible women who are in charge of arranging the poinsettias and greenery on the altar for the Christmas Masses. They are intense. The individuals change, but the mission remains the same: to restore peace on earth and goodwill toward men, one poinsettia at a time. And should old arrangements be forgot, there is a notebook that is passed along each year with photos and notes about what worked and what should change in the future.

This is not some amateur decorating guild. These women mean business.

Every year they ask me to bring a few young people to help carry the plants. Every year I ask, "What time should we be there?," and they say something like "Oh, 9 a.m. should be fine."

And every year I hit the snooze button on my alarm several times, which means I end up rushing to the church, wearing a sweatshirt, my hair in a ponytail and rubbing the sleep from my eyes at 9:07 -- along with a crew of teens in a similar state -- only to discover that the flower ladies have been finished since 8:43, based on some collective unspoken understanding that "be there at 9 a.m." is actually church-lady code for "we're all going to get there at 7:45 and finish in 45 minutes like Jedis'"

So this year I wised up.

When they told me to come at 9 a.m., I told the kids we needed to be there at 8:30 a.m. and then I set my alarm for 6:45 and placed a Post-It note that read, "FLOWER LADIES" next to my snooze button for extra motivation.

I arrived at 8:04, fearing that I would be too late. But I wasn't! They weren't there yet. The teens arrived at 8:22. Still no flower ladies. They did not arrive until 8:37. Still much earlier than planned, but this year we were the ones greeting them. It felt so good.

Reflecting on this, I realized it was a metaphor for Christmas. Christmas isn't just celebrating the birth of the 8 pound, 6-ounce newborn baby Jesus, but recognizing that He will return once more, not as a child but as a judge.

The Gospel of Matthew is full of parables that illustrate the importance of being ready for the return of Christ -- the unfaithful servant in Matthew 24, the foolish virgins in Matthew 25 and the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 all warn us to "Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come" (Matthew 24:42).

Anticipating the arrival of the flower ladies took some action on my part -- setting an alarm clock, getting dressed more than three minutes before I was supposed to be at the church, giving the youth group the right instructions to make sure they were on time.

Similarly, we have to anticipate Christ's return and plan accordingly with our thoughts, words and deeds.

I am the type of person who is perpetually late, but being ready for the flower ladies felt so great. ... I'm thinking that being ready for Christ's return will be even better.

Alison Griswold is the director of youth ministry at St. Francis By the Sea Catholic Church. Follow her on Twitter @alisongriz.Read her blog at