The folly of Christmas

Processed with VSCO with a9 presetIt is freezing cold today. I look out the window at the falling snow—always falling these last few days. My fingertips do not move as quickly, and I feel a cold breeze, even inside. I shiver.

But it is more than the bitterness outside that leaves me feeling uncomfortable, filled with unrest.

On the second day of Christmas, we celebrate a martyr.

December 25, the birth of Christ. December 26, St. Stephen, protomartyr.

The magic and warmth and peace that fills Christmas morning seems shadowed, darkened, by this day. I remind myself that “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” (Psalm 116) I remember that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” (Tertullian) I read in Acts this morning that even as he was still alive on this earth, Stephen saw the heavens open and the Lord standing there, perhaps with his arms open, welcoming His faithful servant home.

We might look on St. Stephen and see in him a great hero, which he was. We see in him the beginning of the Church, one of the first deacons, a man who evangelized the nations and taught the people.

But all I can see is his death.

A brother, a father, a mother. All lost by different friends at the end of this year. Two of those deaths were entirely unexpected, like the thief in the night.

My babies are napping upstairs. Only one of them is actually sleeping. I can hear the other little voice, talking to her dolls, her stuffed Star Wars droid, and her ballet shoes. Christmas for her was full of excitement and squeals. She hardly paused to look at one gift before she was ready to open another, whether it was addressed to her or not.

We had chocolate tahini rolls and coffee and salmon and orange hollandaise sauce. We played with new trains, read new books, and scooped many new (fake) ice cream cones. We lit candles and sang songs.

On that morning, it is easy to tell my daughter how full and hopeful all of this is.

But in the afternoon, a text came. My dear friend lost her father. So unexpected, so sudden. On Christmas day.

The afternoon seemed colder, darker. The harsh winds blew snow in great gusts up the sides of the house, across the recently-shoveled walks. Where is the Christ child now? Where is the thrill of hope, the rejoicing in a weary world?

The world simply seems wearier.

There are no easy answers for martyrdoms or deaths, for loss and grief. Somehow even on Christmas morning, the warmth of the stable and the brilliant light of the star can still seem so cold and so dark.

We had mass in our home on Christmas afternoon. A friend, a priest, who remained in town came over and brought Christ into our home. We offered the sacrifice for the soul of the departed. The light was waning and the shadows growing longer. Even on this day that should be so light but was still so dark, we sang “Glory to God,” and “Heaven and earth are full of your glory.”

And all I can think of, again and again, is this:

“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” (1 Corinthians 1)

It seems so foolish to hope on a day like St. Stephen’s Day. It seems so foolish to hope, even, on Christmas Day, when death and darkness press in all around us. My reason cannot answer all of my questions. It can’t even put them to rest, unanswered.

I need foolishness, and the foolishness of hope that Christmas invites us into.

A little baby is God, incarnate. Foolishness. The Savior of the World, lying in a manger. Angels appearing to shepherds. A virgin giving birth to a son.

A cross of wood redeeming the world. Death leading to life eternal.

Small wafers held in a human’s hand becoming Christ’s body. Wine sipped from a silver cup filling the soul with divine life.

All such foolishness.

But in a dying world, where else would we go?

“You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6)

 

My little son

John Henry says the sweetest little “uh-huh” to assent.

Tonight, we are getting ready for his bedtime.

“Do you want to read a book, Bubs?”

“Uh-huh.”

We read the book, and he points out the “affe” (giraffe) and then leans into my arms for the wiggle that comes with the worm. After looking at the “shish” (fish) a few more times, we finish.

“Are you ready to go night night?”

“Uh-huh.” And he reaches to put the book onto the dresser.

He snuggles into my shoulder, my neck, one hand clutching his beloved owl, the other with his thumb all the way in his mouth.

I am struck by this moment tonight, and every night. My boy, my son, little enough to still suck on his thumb, who needs a little stuffed owl for bedtime, who wants to lay his head on his mom’s shoulder before I tuck him in.

He is so tender.

Last Christmas, he was still new. Having a little baby by the tree is magical. I thought of Jesus as a small little person, like he was.

But this year, I remember how Jesus was a son. I think of Mary with her little son and the Christmases after as she saw Christ’s own tenderness. One day, he would overcome the temptations of the devil and survive on nothing for 40 days. One day, he would enter Jerusalem as a celebrated hero and one day he would conquer death forever.

But first, he was just a small little boy.

What a privilege it is to be a mother, and to get to know a boy who will one day be a man. I get to see him at his smallest, his most vulnerable. I get to see him hugging stuffed animals and crying over a hard bump on the head. No one else will know him as I do.

Even as he grows up and outgrows me—the goal and sorrow, the joy and hope of every parent—I pray many things for him.

I pray he would be brave as Our Lord who carried his own instrument of torture through the city streets.

That he would love justice like Our Lord who turned over the tables of the money changers.

That he would be self-sacrificing as Our Lord who gave his body to be broken for His children.

That he would be humble as Our Lord who came to earth as a little boy, just as he is.

But most of all, I pray that he would be tender as Our Lord, the Lord who wept at the tomb of Lazarus and welcomed the little children into His presence.

These days of small things

Processed with VSCO with x4 presetIf I don’t do it, it won’t be done.

Too often those words run through my head. And too often, the tone accompanying them is annoyance, frustration, and certainly a bit of exhaustion. My list of things to do seems nearly endless, and I never complete everything on it.

My bathroom rarely gets a good scrub. I vacuum far less than my home needs. I haven’t washed a mirror or a window in probably a year.

It’s more than just chores, though, that prompt this train of thought.

When my babies wake up impatiently and don’t want to wait another minute in their beds: If I don’t get them up, no one will.

When I’d rather take a nap than make dinner: If I don’t make us something to eat, no one will.

When yet another diaper needs to be changed. When the laundry needs to be folded. When mouths need to be wiped, blocks picked up, bumps kissed, and peanut butter and jellies prepared.

If I don’t do this, no one else will.

I’m ashamed to admit this is a complaint. Ashamed to think it, ashamed that I can sometimes resent this position in life, these days of small tasks.

We all have these moments, right? Whether we stay home with children, or go to an office full-time, or attend school. We all are faced with tasks that require us—and sometimes only us—to actually do them. These tasks ask us to have humility and a willingness to accept them and resolve to simply apply ourself to what is given. They are usually the small, unglamorous, dirty tasks like washing the extra coffee cups piled in the sink at the office, or cleaning the toothpaste off the vanity, or letting another car move in front of us in traffic.

If I don’t do this, who will?

I don’t want to stop thinking this. These words can be the opposite of a complaint. I want to think them and to realize the position I am in as I say these words.

These words present me, each time, with a beautiful opportunity.

These words indicate the greatest, most important tasks that are given to me. Truly, the tasks that I alone have been asked to do, the tasks that go overlooked or undervalued or forgotten altogether, are those that are richest with meaning. And the saints are those who fully accepted and embraced these exact moments.

Oscar Romero spoke out against poverty, injustice, and oppression. If he had not spoken, who would have?

Maximillian Kolbe volunteered to die in the place of a stranger in Auschwitz. If he had not volunteered, who would have?

Mother Teresa went to the Indian slums and offered its people love, and care. If she had not gone, who would have?

These acts of the saints sound like great acts, but in each moment, I am sure they were simply what must be done. If they didn’t meet the need they saw, who would?

If I don’t do this, who will?

That is a unique position, indeed. Even something as seemingly insignificant as changing a diaper offers the chance for me to meet the need of another human being. Making dinner, cleaning up toys, offering understanding and patience to my children. These are all small, daily moments, yes, but they are privileges that require me to accept them and embrace them with all that I am. For, indeed, I was made for these moments.

I must do this, for if I don’t, what else would I do?

(15:1) Mater Dolorosa

mater-dolorosa-by-currier-ives

A new acquaintance of my husband’s recently suggested that he take 15 minutes every night to write. I took this suggestion to heart as I have missed writing but always feel like I don’t know what to say. While I don’t plan to share every evening’s thoughts, I thought I might share some. I am one to often start projects or have grand aspirations and then never follow through, but this is one that I hope (desperately plan) to keep. You are welcome to hold me to that!

Sunday, July 16
John Henry is sick with a high fever today. He spent the whole day sleeping on me, resting on me, whining on me. It is days like these that I am struck by the sheer uniqueness of motherhood—there is truly nothing else like it in all the world. My child is part of me: began in me, lived in me, even now grows from me. So much of him is me. He takes, and I give. He lives, and I slowly die. I feel his pains and his sadness and his discomfort in a way no one else does, for so much of him is me.

All of these moments as a mother make me think of Christ’s mother. Of course she felt as I do when Jesus was sick. She held him, and rocked him, and knew she would do anything to take away his pain. There is a special position, then, for women, for mothers. We can identify with Mary in a way no one else can. We have shared the love we feel for a child, the joy of their smiles, the heartache of their tears. And although we don’t know it fully, we can know in a distinct way the sorrows of this mother at the cross. Standing at its foot with the Mater Dolorosa, we can feel—although only a taste of the depth of her experience—the nails driving in, the spear bringing water and blood, the agony of her Son crying from a cross of wood. Such horror and such grief. Yet such a gift.

Be it done unto me according to Your word.

Throughout her life, Mary assumed an attitude of not mere acceptance, but gift. She does not just passively receive what comes; she presents herself—her womb, her breasts, her maternal heart—as offerings to the Lord. She gives to Him all that she is, she offers herself as a living sacrifice to God. And while she receives the greatest of sufferings, she also receives the greatest of rewards.

Oh, that I might be more like this Blessed Mother. That I might not simply receive what is given as if I am only a passive object of God’s will, but that I might open my heart and open my hands and offer all that I am for the sake of Christ, embracing His will as a small part of His great plan of salvation.

Speak, Lord, your servant is listening. Not my will, but Yours be done.

Mothering in secret

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Real life.

(Lately words have been slow in coming. I hope you will forgive a half-baked, incomplete piece. Perhaps this is more of a conversation. Me to you, whoever you are who might need to remember this as much as I do.)

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6)

Lately my thoughts about this exhausting season of life are less-than pretty. But most of them center around this one question that I find myself asking again and again: Where is my recognition?

It is a human feeling, right? The desire to be seen, the desire to have our hard work noticed.

For me, motherhood brings this question to the surface especially often, since a mother’s daily labors seem fruitless and trivial. In a world where titles and job descriptions and accomplishments bring praise and recognition, the role of mother sounds underwhelming and invisible. Even those closest to me don’t see most of what I do day-in and day-out.

Most of motherhood is entirely hidden. The 12 a.m. and then 2 a.m. and then 5 a.m. wakings; the patient word uttered to a toddler in the midst of a meltdown; the nap time spent chopping herbs and boiling vegetables to prepare for dinner. Most of these moments go entirely unnoticed.

I am not here to discount the encouragement that a word of recognition can bring. I am not here to ask for praise.

I am here to remind myself, and hopefully another mother or two who might also need to hear it:

The things we do in secret are often the most important—and the most sanctifying—ones.

I have been thinking often on Christ’s instructions to His disciples in Matthew 6. Let your giving be in secret. Shut your door and pray to the Father in secret. Keep your fasting secret. These are some of the most fundamental practices in the Christian life, and we are exhorted to practice secrecy in all of them.

And with each of these practices, there comes a promise: And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

How humbling and beautiful to read those words. I am reminded again that it matters not what man thinks of me. I am seen and known by a Heavenly Father who accepts my small offerings of sacrifice. What is the praise of man compared to the reward of God?

Motherhood is a practice in “letting no opportunity go by for serving others in love,” its sacrifices “a bouquet of insignificant little blossoms that are daily placed before the Almighty—a silent, life-long martyrdom.” (St. Edith Stein)

I am asked only to be faithful in the tasks I am given, to look not for the praise of man, but to work and wait and pray that one day I may hear the only praise that matters:

Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into your rest.

Two Years

_SMO5473 copy copy(HERE are my thoughts on year one.)

“In God’s new kingdom, the role of the human couple has changed; it has become a relationship of mother and son. The Son of God is the Son of Man through his mother but not through a human father… does it not indicate the nobility of motherhood as the purest and most elevated union of human beings?” (St. Edith Stein)

“What was it like when you saw her face for the first time?”
“Like I’d been missing her all my life.”
(Call the Midwife)

My baby girl is two tomorrow.

It is remarkable to me how a child’s birthday is just as much about memory as it is about anticipation. It is a child’s and a whole family’s celebration of what has been and anticipation of what is to come: all of the learning and growing and developing. But a birthday is also about memory; often silent memory, memories treasured in a mother’s deepest heart, quietly recalled and reflected upon in between diapers and meals and bedtimes.

These last few days hold so many memories for me. While I know that in the immediate, these moments weren’t as magical and beautiful as they seem now, memory almost reveals to us the deep sweetness in the moments that feel impossible, overwhelming, even terrifying at times. It seems that memory returns those moments to us so that we might see within them the meaning and the wonder that they held. Here are some of those memories, given to me now, as moments of deep grace.

No sleep for three days. My mom not being able to keep up with me on our walks because I was so determined to move this baby along. Blooming aliums in the gardens. Going to the midwife, going home again, going to the midwife, going home again, discouraged, not progressing. Pleading with my mom to help me make the petocin decision. The anticipation of finals still to take hanging over Travis’ head. A night of contractions, breathing, walking, Christmas lights, Audrey Assad on repeat. Pushing, and wanting to cry, and sleeping for a few seconds here and there, water, blood, fear, pain, encouragement, pain, relief, victory, sunshine.

Our windows faced east and she came with the sunrise. The dream ended, and mercy met us with the morning. The magic in that was unmistakable.

Two years later, she is everything we thought she would be. Hilarious, passionate, energetic, demanding, smart as a whip, and a live production every moment. We go to bed every night laughing about something she said, wondering at her newest trick or her recent excitements.

Of course with every new baby, the magic is new again. But there is something about first firsts that I’m not sure I will ever quite get over. She was my first pregnancy, my first labor, my first delivery, my first baby, my first time breastfeeding, my first 2 a.m. alarm clock, my first everything.

She is the first to teach me that “love is the stuff of life.” (Call the Midwife again.. I kind of love it.) Love creates life, and love gives life, and love sustains life. I am certain there is no love like this mothering love on this side of heaven. It is hard, and inconvenient, and exhausting and it demands a lot of me. But it is invigorating and profound and tenacious and delighting.

And it is love that comes to me and reminds me that I am loved even more than I love my children. My children are loved even more than I love them. Oh love divine!

That morning in our hospital room, when I saw her little fingers and her sweet nose and the day dawned, this love came and met us and filled us. And I discovered what I didn’t even know I was missing.

The way to happiness

Processed with VSCO with a7 presetThe recent silence on this little space can be attributed to the survival mode I feel like I have been operating in these last few weeks. It’s funny—as an adult, I think we tend to say that being a child is so easy. You don’t have to worry about anything, you get to play all day, you get to nap every day, etc. But from what I have seen of my sweet little girl’s last few months especially, growing and developing and discovering must be quite hard as well. Skipped naps and swollen gums and emotions that are not yet realized and understood have all brought us a rather difficult winter. Most days, I feel like I am just trying to make it to bedtime again, and then feel guilty that this is my mindset. I don’t know how to help my days feel any different, really, but I was reminded yesterday of what this season is offering to me if I have the courage and grace to accept it: happiness.

One of my husband’s colleagues who is becoming a wonderful friend to us reminded me yesterday that the life of Christ is a life of service, and it is in living the life that Christ lived that we find happiness. Being united more and more to Him means living more and more as He did. And I can see, although dimly, that the diapers, the cleaning, the neediness, the laundry, the midnight wakings, the meals, the bathtimes, are all moments of Christ offering His life to me. And in that life, there is happiness.