God Ain’t Santa

Flashback: Christmas 1981

The one thing I really wanted for Christmas that year was a Matchbox Sounds of Service Garage.  I had written it carefully in my letter to Santa and come Christmas morning, there it was under the tree.  It was carefully wrapped but already assembled with batteries in it, ready to go.

Newsflash: God Ain’t Santa

erectprIt took me a long time to figure out that sometimes gifts from God are already whole and complete. But most of the time, it’s like getting an Erector set… one…tiny eighth-of-an-inch screw…at…a…time…and then getting the tools and instruction manual last.  As you know, patience is a virtue, it isn’t one of mine.  So my conversations with God tend to go a little like this:

God: “Here.  Hang on to this.”

Me: “Why?”

God: “It’s important.”

Me: “But what is it?”

God: “You’ll see.”

Me: “Yeah, but when?”

God: “Later.”

Me: “Can’t You just tell me?”

God: “Nope. You’ll know when you need to know.”

Me: “Do You have any idea how absolutely frigging infuriating You can be?!”

He never answers that last one but I can always feel the Divine Smirk.

The thing about that Matchbox garage is that I knew exactly what I wanted.  When it comes to my spiritual life, nine times out of ten, I have no clue what it is I’m asking for.  Yeah, there are those times when I know I want wisdom or clarity or courage but more often than not I see something I can’t quite name, something just beyond my understanding and all I know is I want that, whatever that is.  And that’s okay because unlike Santa, who requires an exact list, God already knows what the vague and nebulous that is.

Every year, Deacon Ron asks me what gift I will ask of God for Christmas.  This is one of those years when what I want is something I can’t quite name.  I saw it last week in a little boy.  He was about eight years old and was sitting a couple of pews in front of me at Mass.  He caught my eye as he was so thoroughly captivated by everything happening on the altar. Meanwhile, his little sister had fallen asleep in their mother’s arms.  When it came time to receive Communion, their mother was trying to position the sleeping girl on the pew and while she wasn’t looking, the little boy darted out of the pew. With his hands jammed into the pockets of his winter coat, he put his arms out like airplane wings and ‘flew’ his way up the aisle. Oblivious of the adults piously processing forward, he ran ahead and cut in front of the entire line. After receiving the Body of Christ, he turned and flashed his mortified mother a smile that I will never forget. For a moment, the world stopped spinning beneath me.  All I could see was his face and all that I wanted was what I could see in his eyes.

For the life of me, I can’t tell you what I saw.  Innocence? Joy? Freedom? Love? Grace?  Some concoction of all of those?  I don’t know. But I want it.  I pointed it out to God in that moment as the world stopped beneath me.

THAT – right there – that – I don’t know what that is, but You do and I want that more than anything.”

And I felt God smile.

I really hope this isn’t going to be one of those Erector set gifts that is going to come one little piece at a time. Much assembly required and batteries not included…yet.  But for some crazy reason, God seems determined to teach me patience.

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Unfinished… A Reevaluation

Last Christmas I wrote:

Right now, I’m doing pretty well and most days it’s not too hard to be thankful but when the stuff hits the fan – and I know sooner or later it will – I want to be cheerful. I want to be appreciative.  And no matter what comes, I want to be thankful for the simple joy of cookies.

When I looked back over 2012 to see if that had been my reality this year, I looked beyond my journals to include my Facebook posts.  I post pretty much every day, all spontaneous stuff: some of it wacky and some of it quite serious, even controversial at times.  I’ve stirred up some real hornet’s nests and I’ve been called a lot of well, shall we say ‘interesting’ things this year.  I’m know I’m not everybody’s cup of tea.  I’m more like a shot of good bourbon, either you can handle me or you can’t.  

But in addition to some of the political and religious posts that riled people up, there were a lot of little moments I’d captured.  The terms Eugenism, Andrewish, Momish, and Somedoggy were born. Friends tell they can always count on my page for a lift. “Compile your posts into a book!” they tell me.  Well I don’t know that there’s enough there for a book, not yet anyway, but I was amazed at how many silly little things I’d captured over the year.  I saw how much joy I’d had over the past year, all of it in the smallest moments of everyday life.  

I had started to pull out a few of my favorite posts to include in my Christmas letter. That letter was sitting on my computer half-finished when the news of the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook broke.  Suddenly the look back over the year didn’t matter.  Only the right now mattered. I suddenly wanted my boys home with me and I wanted them home now, right that minute.  But Eugene wasn’t at school.  He was wrapping up a three-day field trip at Nature’s Classroom, 45 minutes away and wasn’t due back at school until 2:00.  Andrew was in class at his middle school and thankfully unaware of what had happened.  It took everything in me not to go the school and pull Andrew out early. I had to keep telling myself that my boys were okay.  I was the one who was a mess and I needed to pull it together before I picked them up.  It didn’t work.  I fell apart as soon as I could put my arms around them, take their faces in my hands and tell them how very much I love them.

Over this past week, I’ve tried to resurrect where I was going with that letter I’d started but I can’t.  Then I had a conversation yesterday with Eugene that gave me the perspective on what was in my way. I asked him what was his favorite part of his three days at Nature’s Classroom.

“Thursday night,” he replied without even stopping to think about it, “I saw three shooting stars on the night hike.” Then his voice changed, softened and saddened,  sounding much older than his ten years, “That was before…you know…before Friday.”

Before.  Yes, that’s what was eating at me.  Before.  And now there is nothing but After.  I want my Before back.  I want my sense of security back, however false it may be.  I want that piece of innocence back for myself and for my kids.  Dropping my boys off at school will never feel quite the same again.  But then again, picking them up will never be the same again either.  We’ve hugged tighter this week.  We’ve talked more about the good things in life, taking time to point out the goodness and kindness in people.

That now-scrapped Christmas letter had started off with the observation that our holidays had become a run-together mishmash my friend Kate dubbed ‘Hallothanksmas’.  I’d grown weary of hearing people say they just wanted the next holiday to start so they could ‘get it over with’.  But that was Before.  Now in this new After, we’re quicker with a hug, to say ‘I love you’, to say ‘I’m sorry’, to be considerate or to do some small random act of kindness and it makes me wonder, why did it take something so awful to bring out that goodness in us? 

The gifts of Advent are Peace, Hope, Joy and Love. What happened at Sandy Hook left me very shaken.  That unfinished letter ended up being a letter to myself, reminding me that Peace, Hope, Joy and Love have been very much present in my life this year but they could have been so easily overlooked.  It’s in taking the time to really see, to appreciate and to celebrate them that makes those gifts mean something.  So I will share one of those little moments with you.  This conversation could just as easily be one of my conversations with God,  myself as a child and God as the parent.

Eugene: “Why didn’t you tell me it was easier that way?!”
Mom: “I DID! You just don’t listen to me.”
Eugene: “I listen to you. I just forget to remember.”

Take time to listen.  Take time to remember.  Someday, it may matter far more than you realize.