christmas, faith, family, grief and loss, hope, Inspiration, Uncategorized

The Working Title Is…I Killed Baby Jesus

It started innocently enough.

I was meandering through a store’s Christmas section when my eye was drawn to the most unique crèche. The stable/manger was crafted from beautiful blonde wood and the nativity figurines (also blonde, but why start now with historical accuracy) had this child-like, almost cartoonish, appearance to them.

As I picked it up for a closer look, it became quickly apparent that these were two separate pieces. And by “quickly apparent,” I more specifically mean that the nativity scene went flying through the air, careening toward the concrete industrial floor and ultimately smashing into a thousand tiny pieces.

The whole thing unfolded in slow motion before me. In fact, I did a mini “fly through the air” move to reach out and grab it, all the while yelling, “Noooooooooo!” (Think Marty McFly watching Doc being shot by the Libyans.)

I kneeled on the floor in utter disbelief. It was a nativity bloodbath. I quickly turned the sheep away so they didn’t have to witness their decapitated shepherd’s noggin bouncing down aisle four.

My palms started to sweat as I gathered up the pieces. Oh, dear God, I wondered what negative karma would come from such an indiscriminate and brutal slaughter of the Holy Family? What bad juju could this Bethlehem massacre carry? And who is monitoring the store security camera and laughing at my expense right now? I sucked in my gut knowing this could be on YouTube before I even left the store.

As I gathered the sacred chards and anticipated a heavenly lightning strike, I texted a confession to my kids. My daughter Maddie hilariously analyzed the forensic evidence.

 

She was right. Looking past their mangled bodies, I saw they each shared a look of shock, as if they knew they would meet their demise in such a dramatic fashion.

I sullenly approached the register and explained to the cashier what happened. While offering to pay for the irreparably damaged goods, I launched into a whole soliloquy about the potential consequences on my afterlife, but she interrupted, saying, “It’s ok, ma’am, I’ll just add it to our damaged inventory.”

I sat in the car for a bit, trying to shake the feeling of impending doom while still laughing at “Y’all still want this myrrh?”

I pondered the duality of emotion this work of art elicited. The artist’s original motivation for having everyone admire the baby Jesus with such a look of astonishment or surprise was beautiful. How true it is for people of faith to look to the promise of salvation that was born of a tiny baby and say, “Oooh.”

And after my murderous actions, that same facial expression yields a totally different, yet profound meaning. How often, when we feel as though our lives have been broken into a million tiny pieces, do we exclaim a much different, “Oooh.”

And that is how a “cleanup in aisle four” reminded me of the foundation of my faith life and the promise of Advent.

Life can be messy. And painful. And exhausting.

And extraordinary. And blissful. And carefree.

During this holiday season, it is imperative that we remind ourselves that life is all of these things to all people…especially within the depths of our own hearts.

My faith provides a balance that moves me to focus on the untold promise and potential life holds as represented by the tiny baby Jesus. And it strengthens me through the realization that I will have my share of Good Fridays…times of loss and brokenness.  My faith promises me that whether my “Oooh” is one of joy or sorrow, I am not alone.

Today, my prayer is for everyone feeling shattered and defeated and forlorn. My hope is that you can find strength in the promise of Advent…that the candles of faith, hope, love and peace bring a transformative “Oooh” into your heart and a confidence that light will follow this darkness.

Open your heart to gather strength from those who love you…those in heaven and on Earth. Find comfort through scripture, “Do not fear: I am with you; do not be anxious: I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you.” (Isaiah 41:10)

You are not alone. And you are loved.

“Oooh.”

kmp

 

 

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family, grief and loss, Inspiration, Uncategorized

The Working Title Is…Wisdom from a Christmas Stocking

Behold, a hand-knit depiction of a right jolly old elf. And just as it is written, his droll little mouth is drawn up like a bow, and the beard of his chin is as white as the snow.

This is my Christmas stocking and my oldest personal possession. Almost exactly 51 years ago, this stocking was my traveling companion on the journey to meet my parents for the very first time.

These days, it is referred to as Gotcha Day or Homecoming Day; the day on which a person joins a family through adoption. But in 1967, it was simply thought of by my adoptive parents as the day their prayers were answered.

For the first time, they held in their arms the baby girl they had said “yes” to, the baby girl who had spent the first six months of her life in a foster home because she was born with a congenital deformity that labeled her handicapped and ineligible for immediate placement in a forever home.

I remember my mother telling me that the adoption agency would only tell her and my father that they had a baby for them, but the baby was handicapped. They would not reveal the nature or severity of the disability. My mom told me they didn’t even have to think twice about their answer. God had sent them this baby, and they were prepared to welcome her home.

And so they did. On a Wednesday afternoon in December, the little girl they would name Kathleen Mary first unreservedly offered a toothless smile in their arms as the social worker explained the very simple care of her “handicap” which was ultimately disclosed as a dislocated hip that would be guided into place within a few months time.

The precious Christmas stocking that accompanied the baby was filled with teething toys and rattles that had become comfort items during their little girl’s first six months of life. The stocking was handmade by her foster mother as her foster father, almost certainly, offered his loving praise over her handiwork.

My mother was told that this foster family had recently petitioned to adopt the baby girl but had been denied because their ages fell above the agency’s maximum allowable for adoption. During my first six months of life, this foster couple’s loving care included having me baptized at St. Agnes Catholic Church.

The social worker smiled when my mom told her they would give me the name Kathleen Mary, saying only that it was incredibly close to that which the foster family had me baptized.

A strange truth to many, I have never had the desire to seek my birth parents, but I have thought of this foster family every Christmas; throughout my childhood as my Christmas Stocking was hung with care in our living room and filled by Santa with treats galore and throughout adulthood as each year it holds a place of honor near our Christmas tree. When I learned a few years back that St. Agnes Parish was closing, I called to inquire about baptismal records with the hope to identify these foster parents who tenderly cared for me the first six months of my life.

I wanted them to know how blessed I had been to be placed in my forever home with a family whose faith life was the foundation of who they were and all they did. I wanted them to know that I had a remarkable journey through Catholic schools and the finest Jesuit university in all the land; a journey that led me to a lifetime of friendships and the love of my life. I wanted them to know I was a mom to two beautiful daughters of my own whom, unreservedly, have offered me their smiles for decades. I wanted them to know I still have that Christmas stocking and it means the world to me. I wanted to say thank you.

My call to the Parish Office was placed just days before it was set to close. In fact, the voice on the other end of the phone quickly led me to believe that the elderly pastor was personally manning the phones…and that I caught him in the middle of his lunch.   Between my inability to offer a concise summary of my request and his really loud chewing, I offered to call him back. Well, life interrupted, and I never did.

Not the dramatic ending you were hoping for, I bet.

I most likely will never know the identity of that foster family. In addition, those wonderful adoptive parents, my Mom and Dad, are now both deceased. But I have that stocking to console me–on their combined behalf– over the delicate and often paradoxical emotions of a season that almost demands one to be “merry and bright.”

As I hold this stocking in my hands, I envision foster parents handing over a baby they had nurtured over six months time and had petitioned to adopt. My heart hurts at the thought.

As I hold this stocking in my hands, I have a much clearer vision of the adoptive parents first holding a still bald, toothless baby because that joyous story is detailed in a memory narrated by my Mom. My heart bursts at the thought.

The wisdom offered by this Christmas stocking is not unique to my life story. In fact, it should offer a universal consolation.

It’s important to acknowledge that there are feelings beyond our control that impact our lives everyday and are often exacerbated during the holidays for a variety of reasons.

The holiday season may pose painful struggles; certainly for those who have experienced the death of a loved one, but also for people who yearn for the Christmases they had, but have since lost, or perhaps desired but never even had. Some may crave that family closeness…past or present, imagined or real. Others may mourn unfulfilled childhood desires…realizing your life didn’t travel the path you had hoped.

The wisdom of my Christmas stocking reminds me that in the midst of the darkest winter, the path to an amazing spring is waiting for me…in my own heart.

Maybe the universal message is one of accepting and loving who you are right now, especially if you are sad or angry or feeling empty or lost. Whatever the case may be, you must accept where you are in order to usher in the day when the light returns to your soul and your spirit.

Because I’ve experienced the darkness, I can savor the light in my life.

This past weekend, the candle of joy was lit on Advent wreaths in countless churches and homes around the world. It is that call to joy that led me to consider the wisdom of my Christmas stocking and pray for everyone in my life for whom joy is a really, really tough sell this year…be it because of disappointment or regret, an unfulfilled dream or a broken heart represented by an empty chair at this year’s holiday table.

I pray for strength and for peace in the hearts of those who are hurting.

And I thank God for the perspective my faith provides me, for the strength the Advent season instills within me, and for the belief that an Easter Sunday will follow every Good Friday in my life, until that day when God reunites me with those I loved and have lost– and those I have loved and never even met.

Hoping your Christmas stockings are filled with light, I wish Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

kmp

 

 

 

 

 

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