tradition

Living over 700 miles from our families sometimes makes the holidays difficult for me. Because of the challenge in scheduling around me, my husband, and our two employed young adults, we won’t be “going home” for Christmas this year.

This saddens me.

I will miss the always amusing banter between my three brothers and my husband. The way that they can recite lines from funny (stupid) movies as if they had been part of the original cast.

I will miss both of my niece’s gentle spirits. Their kind, compassionate, smart, funny hearts.

I will miss the amazing conversations I always seem to have with all of my nephews. The way that I marvel at how much they’ve changed. How I appreciate and savor every word, every smile and frown, every uninhibited expression.

I will miss the snow. The way that, when you drive from the east side of the state to the west, the snow banks get deeper and deeper.

I will miss my mom’s gingerbread boys. Soft and sweet, with the perfect blend of spices, these are one Christmas treat I cannot resist.

I will miss both of my sisters-in-law, a truly profound blessing to me. Their witty wisdom, their enlightened grace, their calming and subtle affect on my sometimes over-stressed heart.

I will miss hot coffee in the morning at the kitchen table on Allen Road and the relaxed, wonderful conversations that always seem to happen there. When the sister and her boys come in and fill the house with energy.

I will miss Christmas mass at Cabrini, the chill in the air, the beautiful decorations, the lovely choir, singing all the favorites.

Mostly, I will miss the wonderful opportunities to bring everyone together. The crowds of relatives, the festivity in the air, the hustle and bustle. The overflowing love and affection. The smiles, laughter, and enjoyment of the relationships I hold most dear.

I find myself half-heartedly putting up the decorations in my own house this year, 700 miles away. My favorite Christmas playlists don’t have their usual appeal. And yet, I have a profound awareness of the gift of my own little family here in Pennsylvania. It is as if this year, when I am missing my larger family’s traditions, the “little” family traditions we have become magnified and treasured. It’s God’s grace that has shown me this truth.

Today, I thank God for my families, large and small, and the wonderful ways that they shower me with grace.

I invite you to do the same.

behold!

I took a lunch hour this week to rest in silence in an Adoration chapel close to work. On this December 23, I found myself having great difficulty finding focus. Lists of things ran through my head, from last-minute shopping, to incomplete tasks left behind at the office, to memories of Christmases past and how I would miss being in Michigan with family this year.

The altar at St Isaac’s has a wonderful stained glass behind it that depicts Jesus on the cross, with Mary and John at his feet. I have spent countless hours in that chapel, my eyes noticing every detail in the glass. But this day, I noticed that the cross seems to float within a wonderful depiction of the tree of life. The dark wood of the cross has beautiful shades of green leaves swirling around it. This is a beautiful image that I’ve read before in a book about St Benedict, and today it reminds me of a wonderful manger image in The Reed of God by Caryl Houselander:

“The description of his birth in the gospel does not say that [Mary] held him up in her arms but that she ‘wrapped him up in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.’ As if her first act was to lay him on the cross.”

In the midst of the season’s hustle and bustle, as I sat and prayed with this new, found image of the tree of life, I began to realize that a woman had walked into the chapel. She had a tiny baby in her arms, and she walked right up in front of the monstrance and held the infant’s face up where he could see. This mother, her baby in her arms, then knelt before the monstrance for a few moments, her head bowed, all the while making sure her child was facing Jesus. It was if she was saying, “Behold! Do not be afraid!”

In this moment of grace, it was as if God was telling me, “Behold… Notice the infant… Look at the way the mother helps her child see Jesus… This is all you need to know this Christmas.”

joyful hope

What did you go out to the desert to see?

-Matthew 11:7

Advent is the season of patience. It begins, it seems, as we wait for the days to begin to get longer. For me, the darkness that comes earlier and earlier in the evening is sometimes unbearable. And yet, when I drive home after a long day of work and darkness surrounds me, the beautiful Christmas light displays seem to light my way home.

When I consider the people in my life who are living saints, one of the qualities that I find in several people is joy, a theme that returns again and again. My dear friend whose hair is returning after months of chemo and radiation never seemed to be without at least a tiny bit of joy in the face of her illness; a twinkle in her eyes; an appreciation for all her gifts. Another friend who works tirelessly for the homeless in her community does every act of charity with a joyfulness that inspires me. Even that perfect stranger that I saw at the mall last night who was joyfully singing along to the piped-in Christmas carols had an air of sainthood about her.

In Advent, we wait in joyful hope. But does the joy come first? Am I joyful as a result of the waiting? Or do I have a joyful view of life that is only strengthened and increased when I contemplate the birth of Christ? Our God, the one who became man, wants our full flourishing. As I wait in joyful hope, I ask myself: What do I go out to the desert to see?