A Christmas Gift

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​My first Christmas at church I didn’t know what to expect. I had never spent so  much time in a pew until that spring before that first Christmas. The season of Advent was a surprise to me. I thought it was  merely the religious counter to consumerism post-Halloween. Pumpkins and turkeys and tall evergreen trees fighting for space on store shelves and floors, hanging on wires from warehouse height ceilings. Sets of twenty-five mini boxes filled with the chocolate or tea or Lego of the day.

But church Advent wasn’t that. It was greenery and purple, the season of waiting, of patience, of reflection. I had no idea what I was doing, where the path I trod would take me and so patience and reflection were exactly what I needed.

Didn’t we all?

And apparently that insight, that foresight was already built into the season.

And, then, overnight, seemingly as if by magic, wreaths adorned the walls alternating with the windows. Purple ribbons changed to gold. At the back of the choir, the tall evergreen, white lights shining brightly and garland delicately strung across the bottom of the organ pipes appeared.

I did know that there would be more people at Christmas services than at the daily masses, and even more than at the Sunday masses. I thought the pews would be filled, everyone tightly sitting, trying not to touch their neighbor but failing at that, everyone finally giving up the pretense.

Filling the pews, laughter and song, smiles and handshakes. What I didn’t know was that it would be standing room only, barely meeting fire code, if at all. That first Christmas Eve, the low hum of talk between carols, seeing the pastor, greeting the pastor, shocked as he remembered my name. The lights dimmed giving off the feeling of candlelight. Father J asking the back row to budge over so I could sit, leaving me no good way to sneak out if it became too much.

I was unknown and still welcomed as family. No strings, no judgment, malice toward none.

The week before this Eve was something many churches do, but many more used to do. The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. I thought it was a sing-a-long, but it was more a solemn service alternated with hymns.

Ode to Joy. My favorite moment in the Die Hard movie was actually Beethoven and part of the Christmas music selection; with words. I grinned ear to ear at something so familiar in such a strange setting.

Around the middle, towards about three quarters, the music director, D, began his piano and sang the first three words – O, holy, night. This song wasn’t in the book , the guide we’d received when we arrived, a clear indication that we were to listen and not join in.

It wouldn’t have mattered had the words been there with the direction to chorus. D’s voice rose and fell and held notes I couldn’t imagine existed. It was as if the sky opened and angels guided his music. It was more than just a lovely song by a lovely voice, although it was that also. It was more than a heart could hold. It was G-d and joy and love and spirit rising as incense, speaking to souls. I held my breath. I didn’t realize I had tears in my eyes until the last note when the spell was broken with applause.

Every year since then I wait through all the musical offerings, enjoying all, but hoping my Christmas gift arrives from D and it usually does in a pre-piano hush that clears the senses before they can be filled again.

The birth of the child who would be King in every note, every breath, every moment.

On the 12th Day of Christmas, My True Love gave to Me:

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​ …Twelfth Night.

After college, I was fortunate enough to meet some people and get involved in a historical reenactment group. We’re still family but I miss the day to day. Facebook is not an adequate substitute.

We held events, most were annual favorites, and one of the ones I loved was Twelfth Night. It was when we exchanged gifts for the holiday season.

I didn’t pay much attention to why we did our “Christmas” later despite doing ridiculous amounts of research into my Welsh persona. I think I just thought that everyone was busy with their mundane lives and this was when we all got together as a medieval family again.

It wasn’t until later, teaching, reading about a multitudes of December holidays, and really looking at the liturgical calendar that I noticed that Twelfth Night falls on the twelfth day of Christmas, Three Kings Day, the Epiphany.

Everything makes sense now.

Well, not everything, but this does.

And since that journey of the three wise men and others who are not so lauded or remembered, more than I can count have journeyed to meet the Christ child. We can’t all go to Bethlehem, but He will meet us where we are, and he does.

On the 11th Day of Christmas, My True Love gave to Me:

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…The Unexpected.

Waiting in line today, I did a thing.

I don’t want to talk about the thing because it was a small thing, it was a kind thing, it was a spontaneous thing, and talking about the actual thing sounds like I’m asking for a pat on the back, which in reality I don’t deserve. It really was that small.

So I did a thing, a good thing, a random acts kind of thing.

The woman was surprised.

I was surprised at my stepping forward so publicly.

The people between us weren’t quite sure what to make of it. They could have done the thing, but it didn’t occur to them. That’s not a value judgment. I went back and forth for what seemed like a long time deciding if I wanted to go ahead and draw the attention to myself. That’s just how it is for all of us. We’re going about our days, and the opportunities arise. We either take them or we don’t. It doesn’t actually matter either way, but what happened today was – 

The Unexpected.

The woman received something unexpected that wasn’t about the specific thing, but about something else, and I received something unexpected as well. 

We shared this moment, but it wasn’t just our moment. It was her toddler son and her husband across the way. It was the women between us, and the women behind the counter; a moment shared by all.

A shared thing.

I didn’t realize how good it would make me feel. It wasn’t hubris or pride, but it was that I did something that made someone else’s life a tiny bit easier, and it made my life a bit better and positive.

So when the moments appear, do the thing.

Discernment

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​​How did you discern your vocation, your call to follow Christ? Who were the people who mediated that call?

– Daily Reflections for Advent & Christmas: Waiting in Joyful Hope 2016-17 by Bishop Robert F. Morneau

I don’t consider what I believe or what I do through that belief and faith to be a vocation. That may just be my mind’s unwillingness to grasp the meaning of that word, and I may simply need a little more time to wrap my head around it. To me vocation equals job, so for vocation, I think more of priests, nuns or religious women, deacons, even ministry lay people, but for me simply as a follower of Christ, I don’t think of it or call it a vocation. Perhaps in time, it will become that in my mind whether or not something changes tangibly or not.

So for me, this discernment, which is another word I had to wrap my head around, is about my call to follow Christ. I didn’t recognize the call to follow at all. I came to the physical building of a church for solace, for meditation, for silent ranting, and conversing with G-d. Jesus was not part of the picture.

I don’t doubt not that He led me there, but it wasn’t with a neon sign although there was a street sign. Looking back on it now, it would have been a really sad excuse for a Hallmark channel movie; so improbable, so contrived if I’d thought of it as a five step program.

But there I was led, and once I settled in to looking inward and selflessly instead of the opposite, things fell into place spiritually. Once the call came, there were no doubts, no second thoughts. I, the queen of second guesses and wishy-washyness was shocked with which the ease of following Christ came to me.

I was looking for nothing, and I received everything. Once He reached out to me, He was there. I knew all the things I needed to know, and each step was taken with little thought, but all heart. No regrets.

The people in my life didn’t so much mediate the call as supported it, both before and after.

Prior, I had a friend who emulated forgiveness and love thy neighbor. It hadn’t occurred to me that these were Christian values until I saw it in action under no labels. Watching him forgive what I could never made me acutely aware of how many grudges I held, even if I thought there were a few strong ones, it was a few too many. I began to see things in a different light. My circle of friends supported me and held me up when I would falter, and none of that was expressly Christian or Christ-like; but was just good and decent and human.

Humanity.

Empathy.

Pushing courage into my veins like an energy drink.

After those friends, my church family was so welcoming. Before I was Catholic. Before I would ever hear the call; embrace the call, they were there in all of there capacities.

The women in the pew who talked to me, never once asking me where I’d come from or why I was there (since I wasn’t Catholic).

The priest who I was wary of since my start at Masses came before his return from Roman sabbatical. I do not like change. Any change. My middle name should be wary-skeptical-cynical.

His first homily on or around the anniversary of my friend’s mur/der about a red steamer trunk and his sabbatical that sounded remarkably like my recent pilgrimage to Wales was so profound that it left an indelible mark on my soul.

He also welcomed me into the counseling room, not so much counseling as counsel and talk, and never once asked when I would be joining the church or attending Sunday Mass. Not once.

In fact, no one in this parish community ever asked me when I would be converting. They welcomed me anyway.

The church secretary who became my godmother, so knowledgable, so kind, so full of grace to answer my questions, and fill me in on things I may not be as mindful to not growing up in the church. She is my guide and my friend.

All the people at the daily masses who said hello and smiled at me.

The medical and hot water heater help through the St. Vincent de Paul Society, never once questioning my church going (or not going), not knowing me from Adam, and helping. These men and women have a calling; a vocation.

I was never asked for a donation.

I was never asked for anything before in my heart I knew I could give it. And somehow, they also knew.

I could feel people praying for me. My life did not miraculously improve overnight, but I could feel it – people, friends, acquaintances.

Holy Spirit.

Seeing through the RCIA program, amazingly and profoundly at how much they were teaching me that I already believed since childhood and couldn’t quite put a finger on.

So many people involved and encouraging through a simple head nod and a smile.

The people (you) who read my things here and tell me their stories of their own callings or ask questions about mine or simply hit the like button. It is all part of that mediation, the meditation, the call and the give back.

The calling had been there all along; I only had to quiet myself down to hear it.

On the 10th Day of Christmas, My True Love gave to Me:

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Quiet.

Peace.

A little time.

I missed the eighth day of Christmas yesterday, and I apologize. I try to keep a series on track as best as I can. I’ve been ill since New Year’s, and then yesterday when I was feeling slightly better, my daughter passed out at school. No worries. It was a combination of not enough sleep, no breakfast, and overheating during gym class. She’s fine and she’s back at it. In fact, after a lie-down with me yesterday, she was already back at it. Her birthday is tomorrow, and she has plans. There is nothing that will get in this little girl’s way.

So today, I’m in recovery mode. List mode. Balance the checkbook.

Stay quiet.

Stay peaceful.

Take a little time.

There are only a few more days left in my Advent/Christmas reflection book and today I’m going to meditate on their suggestion of how I discerned my vocation and my call to follow Christ, and which people mediated that call.

Possibly to be continued with a reflection.

🙂