Bringing Our Best

As we continue to move closer to Christmas, I find that more and more of our focus turns toward Mary. This makes sense in many ways, she is the Theotokos, the God-bearer. Her “yes” to God’s plan is one of the main reasons we are all here, all waiting the blessed day of our Savior’s birth. However, I happen to be in a unique season of life that has me thinking a lot about St. Joseph and the sacrifices he had to make in this adventure.

We are a military family and as it happens, the military has planned for us to transition to a new state in the early weeks of January. Our holiday season has already looked a lot different (even outside of the coronavirus limitations and sacrifices). We don’t have a Christmas tree this year, we have really only put up Advent decorations and minimal Christmas ones. We have had to ask our family to refrain from sending their gifts until after we move so that we don’t end up losing critical LEGO pieces or doll accessories between Christmas Day and a few days later when the serious pack out begins.

I am both a preparer and a celebrator. I like to make plans, get gifts early, make lots of cookies, decorate and leave everything up for the fullness of the Christmas season. This whole notion of emptying the freezer so it can thaw instead of filling it up is very backwards in my frame of mind for this time of year. Though we know little of St. Joseph’s personality from the few passages he is in in the Bible, I believe he and I have some things in common, our affinity for preparation for one.

When Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy, he immediately set out with plans — plans which would have protected Mary to the best of his ability. When the angel appeared to him, his plans clearly changed. But I believe his instinct to protect Mary, and by extension her baby, would have carried on and he would have immediately began planning for this new child. Imagine the cradle a carpenter would make for his son or daughter. Imagine the little stool or bench by the door sized for his toddler. Imagine the toys, trinkets or other baubles he would have made in the evenings by firelight as he awaited the birth of his child.

Now, imagine the pain he must have felt when they received word about the census and he calculated the timing. All of these things he had lovingly and carefully prepared had to be left behind. Imagine how his pain increased when the angel again appeared and told him not to return home to the home he had built, but to flee to Egypt. Sacrifice topped on top of sacrifice. But just because what he had built with his hands had to be left, didn’t mean that Joseph didn’t bring his best along for the journey. Joseph brought his love, his protection, his faithfulness, and his steadfastness.

This year has been fundamentally different. It was not what we planned. Sacrifice on top of sacrifice has brought us to this Advent season. However, we have been gifted an opportunity to choose to approach the coming days with the same spirit of St. Joseph. Christmas Day might not look like what we had planned, but that doesn’t mean we are bringing less than our best. Regardless of how many people are around our table, the child Jesus is with us. No matter how we find ourselves, in our pjs all day or Sunday best, Mary invites us to come and worship her newborn babe. And, regardless of our location, St. Joseph is among us, reminding us that it matters not what we brought or bought. The spirit of Christmas lies in the manger, awaiting not our gifts but our love, our faithfulness, and our devotion.

This post was published first at CatholicMom.com

Merry Mighty Christmas

I recently received an email from a dear church friend who, like many friends, I have only had the briefest of exchanges with these past months. We were catching up with each other – I with our plans for the upcoming move, she sharing her remembrances of working with Air Force families as they transitioned and encouragement for Ben and I as we walk through this transitory period with each other and with the kids. We are exchanging good mailing addresses and confirming our phone numbers won’t be changing. She concluded her latest email as follows:

Merry – Mighty Christmas! The Savior Comes!

I LOVE this! Christmas holds this incredible tension that I don’t think we fully appreciate. God, our Creator, is becoming created. The sky filled with angel choirs – not one angel or two, but hundreds – all singing thunderous praise to God for this mighty miracle.

In any other story, you would expect the angels to part and the god figure to come marching down between the rank and file, perhaps on some kind of noble steed with robes flowing behind and rays of light shooting from his hair. A mighty entrance for the mighty god.

But no, no friends! And this is the (well one of the) wondrous things about our God. While the angels announce His coming, He enters our world in the arms of a simple mother, whose only cradle is small manger for animals. This weak, innocent and helpless baby is the Savior of the world. The whole world was forever changed and continues to be changed by this moment.

Photo credit: Ben Taliaferro 2020

Christmas is merry, it is a time of joyful giving and receiving, a time of spreading love and cheer. It is a season of hope, of what is to come. But Christmas is also mighty, and can inspire us to do mighty things. This Christmas, more unique than most for today’s generations, is an opportunity for such a mighty Christmas.

I’ll just give one example, because I think it is one of the most beautiful and personal for myself and my family. My dad’s mother, fondly called Grandma J, presently lives in an independent living community that is attached to an assisted living and nursing home. As you can imagine, her community has undergone some of the strictest lockdown measures and there was a period of months that she was unable to see any of her family. As the summer moved into fall, the facility began allowing for visitors, under very strict rules and always outdoors. Winter has put a damper on this visiting situation and they have struggled to find a safe way for families to visit their loved ones.

Grandma J

The staff have been so good and have managed to find an indoor space with enough distance and safety measures so that families (a maximum of 2 people at a time) can come visit for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. However, it’s only one space and the time slots are 45 minutes. Naturally, the spots are filling up quickly.

My grandmother had 2 choices. She could have, and rightfully so, frantically called each of her 5 local children to grab whatever they could so she could see someone on this holiday. It would have brought her cheer and joy to have even a little bit of family come to celebrate her.

She, however, made the mighty decision. When the visiting option was announced, she did call everyone. She called them to say to NOT take those precious few visiting spots on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. She said that there are so many residents whose families in a more normal year would only come on Christmas. If this was their one chance to see their children or grandchildren, they should have every opportunity. She has been so blessed by children who do come to visit regularly, she can sacrifice visits on these special days so someone else can enjoy them.

This is love. This is love for others, even others you may not know. Grandma J is 90+ years old. Even if Covid wasn’t a thing, this could very well be her last Christmas. She knows it, we know it. And still, she chose the hard but mighty Christmas. What an incredible inspiration she is, for me and for our whole family. I hope for you as well.

I’d like to wish each of you, dear readers, a Merry and a Mighty Christmas.

Delight

Sitting at an intersection with my observant and forthright 6 year old went something like this recently:

“Mommy, why aren’t we turning?”

“Because we have to wait for a break in traffic. The cars going across us don’t have a light or stop sign so we have to wait for both sides to be clear so we can turn safely. You didn’t put ‘Get hit by another car’ on your plan for the day, did you?”

“I don’t have plans for today.”

“Really, no plans??”

“Nope, I just wanna have fun.”

Her last statement was said in a very matter-of-fact, no-nonsense tone of voice. Had she been older, the addition of, “Duh Mommy,” would not have been out of place. I had to suppress my laughter as we finally had an opportunity to turn and move on with our day.

From the mouths of babes, am I right? I just wanna have fun — when did we lose this outlook on life? When did it all become plans, tasks, goals, and deadlines? In an adult life, these things have purpose and are in many cases, necessary. But what is their ultimate aim – do they get us through the day, or do they help us enjoy the day?

While visiting my parents, my mom introduced me to her new afternoon coffee drink. She often looks for a little caffeine in the afternoon, as many of us probably do. Usually she turns to tea, but lately she discovered a version of a Korean instant coffee drink (rather than hauling out the mixer, she puts the water, sugar and coffee in a small sealed container and shakes them until foamy. You can’t dollop it on top as the recipe shows, but the effect is pretty similar and still delicious!) She calls it her Afternoon Delight.

I love the choice of word: delight. Delight can be both a verb and a noun, meaning to please someone, or simply a great pleasure. The example of the noun is “the girls squealed with delight.” I love this! You can hear little girls squealing — not laughing, not giggling, squealing really is the right word for the sound that explodes from them when they take great delight in a puppy, a new doll, or the idea of piggyback rides on Daddy.

When is the last time you, “squealed with delight?” The first time I sipped my mom’s new afternoon treat, I didn’t necessarily squeal out loud, but that same feeling bubbled into my smile. It was … delightful! It caused me to think about why I hadn’t felt this feeling in a long time, and challenged me to consider how to allow more delight into my day.

I came up with a list, one that I’m working on adding to, of things that bring me that same feeling of delight.

  • The coffee drink
  • Caramel apple dip, especially in the fall
  • Good quality, soft yarn
  • Hummingbirds
  • My 17-month-old’s smile
Image via Pixabay 2013

As we transition from fall to winter, and from Ordinary Time to Advent, it is a unique time to consider what brings us delight. This burst of energy and glee can make a big difference in an otherwise dull day spent indoors because of bad weather, cold, or in this particular year, Covid-19. Advent is a time of waiting, yes, but we also hear about the delight of Mary and Elizabeth as the children in their wombs leapt for joy upon meeting one another. This moment of delight can inspire us to look out for our own moments of delight. And like Mary and Elizabeth, we ought to savor them, not hurry over them to the next task or plan.

As adults we have plans, we have responsibilities. We cannot, as my daughter wishes, just wanna have fun and expect the laundry to be folded, zoom meetings attended, dinner prepared and the kids in bed on time. We can, however, intentionally seek out little opportunities of delight. These moments are opportunities to deeply feel God’s loving presence within us. We know that God delights in all He made: this includes us. As creatures made in God’s image and likeness, we glimpse a small piece of God’s great delight when we allow ourselves moments like these.

How long has it been since you experienced delight? What is something or someone you can take delight in this week, today even? If you can, make a list of regular or reliable sources of delight and see if you can increase your opportunities to experience them this Advent season.

This post was originally published at CatholicMom.com.