Mankind is a great, an immense family....
This is proven by what we feel in our hearts at Christmas.
- Pope John XXIII
All is CALM
thankfully...hopefully for at least the next 9 hours.
All is BRIGHT
as flames flicker happily within the fireplace walls.
As I sit here, clutching my cup of piping hot tea, the air is still, the night is calm. The only audible sound is the faint vibration of a toddler's sweet snore, signaling the restoration of a busy boy's bones as he waits in sleep for the return of just enough strength to take on tomorrow's world.
I cannot help but smile with deep joy as I think of our Charlie, curled up in fuzzy Christmas footie jammies, nestled beneath piles of favorite blankets and bears, tucked cozy within innocence and warmth.
December 2010. Waiting to meet Charlie.
How is it possible, I wonder to myself, that more than two years has passed since I last sat alone on this same couch, on a similar winter night, looking down upon Charlie, our "hidden one," growing beneath my heart. He was our very best Christmas gift that year, a very real, and very present part of our family, even though we had yet to endure three months of waiting before we could hold him. Now, two years later, here I am again, blessed to be carrying our sixth child! Waiting...wondering with great anticipation just who this little person is that God has created.
Isn't it amazing how babies have a mysterious and magical way of filling us with hope? It saddens me, deeply to know that their are unwanted babies, unwanted children in the world, that these precious ones are seen as a burden rather than a blessing, that in many circumstances a higher priority is placed upon the financial "burden" of a baby, the physical and emotional efforts required of us to care for them, the supreme sacrifice of convenience and comfort. I don't deny the difficulties involved in parenthood, nor do I lack sympathy for the most supremely strenuous circumstances that children are often brought into, but I do long to hear about and speak about the sheer goodness and the real and earnest hope that every single child brings into the world.
No circumstance could have been more unbearable than that of the Holy Family's. Their story has become just that - a story - and one that we have all heard so many times that it has become bland, redundant, and a bit over-polished if you will. Our visual is the same old colorful, clean and tidy image of Mary on the donkey, led by Joseph, the two of them finally finding a place to rest their heads in a stable of fresh hay and perfectly tame animals. Then, "Poof!" A baby, and shepherds and angels and wise men and singing and, well, "the end." If we really stop to think about it, the real, stark, bleak conditions of the birth, can we honestly ignore the poverty of their conditions? Doing so shouldn't cause us to abandon the happy spirit of Christmas, but to delve deeper into it's real meaning. There's so much more to the story, when we place ourselves within it...
I find myself being drawn into the story ever deeper when I am expecting. I long to empathize with Mary, to be united to her in a real and profound way, to know how she felt during such a tumultuous time so as to draw closer to her Son, our hope, our miracle. Nearly ready to welcome her son, Mary desired, as every mother-to-be does, to perfect her nest, to prepare the crib and wash the linens, to tidy the home and also to rest, to seek fellowship with and encouragement from friends and family, to enjoy the quiet and the calm before the world around her changes in a most profound way. In her holiness she lacked not an ounce of naturalness.
But, Mary was not given the opportunity to fulfill her nesting instincts. She was called away from her home, from everything familiar, being obedient to circumstances outside of her control, reporting under law for the census....on a donkey, no less. Can you even imagine? The terrain they traveled wasn't smooth and flat, but rugged, hilly, rocky, and rough. Middle Eastern weather during the winter months is often bleak, cold and windy, with night time temperatures reaching unbearable lows. For more than seventy miles they endured these conditions, and SHE WAS NINE MONTHS PREGNANT!
This is why "Mary on the Donkey" is my life's mantra when it comes to motherhood. My discomforts and inconveniences pale in comparison to everything she endured. When I feel that my complaints over fat feet and hemorrhoids, the heat the cold, too many doctor appointments and not enough fast food choices etc., etc. are totally justified given my "condition" these words always seem to pop into my head. Thankfully, I know that Our Lady is praying for me, and cheering me on through it all from above!
The most captivating, most heartwarming stories we read about online or hear about on the news are most inspiring when a deep difficulty has been overcome, when fruit has been born of great suffering, when goodness has overcome evil, when light has broken through the darkness. To enter into the beauty, the miracle, the supreme JOY of Christ's birth, we must first journey through the darkness, alongside not only, Mary and Joseph, but also the people of the old testament who waited, who longed to see, to know to experience their Savior and His promise of hope and salvation. This is the beauty of Advent - to prepare us experience the triumph of the Christmas story, through prayer and contemplation of the road leading up to Christ's birth.
As mothers, we are Mary on the donkey, saying "yes" again and again, every moment of every day, to every challenge, every circumstance, every difficulty that comes our way. As women who long with their entire being to be life-bearers, but who face the struggle of seeing that dream realized, you too, are Mary on the donkey, following the will of God, no matter how intensely painful the journey may be, trusting that fruit will come from your sacrifice.
As fathers, those of you who embrace the call to provide for and to protect your own family, you are Joseph leading humbly, offering up your own fiat, your very own yes to the will of God - despite the circumstances and conditions the world may place upon your shoulders. Lead on with confidence in the beautiful hope that your children are to the world, in the fruit that your sacrifices have yet to bear, in the grace and strength that only Christ our Savior can give.
As our family waits, in gracious hope and bubbling excitement for Christmas day, we unite ourselves to the Holy Family, to their living witness to hope, and we hold tight to one another, giving thanks for the little life whom we will hold in our love next year at this time.