Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

It's here! HE'S here! There is so much joy in my home and my heart today that I want to extend it to all of you as well.

We went to Mass last night at 4 pm, which I was able to do thanks to some wonderful tea my Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor has given me (I say wonderful because it works, not because of how it tastes.) And a very kind family who has obviously taken the Christmas message to heart squeezed in so I could sit down, because "A pregnant woman should always have a seat at Christmas Mass." I said thank you a hundred times and knew I wasn't properly conveying just how INCREDIBLY grateful I was for that beautiful gesture. We got to Mass 1/2 an hour early and it was already standing-room only, if that helps put the little miracle into perspective!

Mass was beautiful, and here's another little miracle: My husband came! While getting my daughter ready she asked me, "Can Dedah come?" and I said, "Go ask him!" He willingly put on his nice clothes and a tie to match the one my son was wearing, and we all got to sit together for Christmas Mass. How beautiful!!

I thought I'd start a little meme, if anyone is interested in joining, as a way to celebrate the coming of this blessed, joyous day! I will try to figure out how to do the trackback linky thing, but don't anyone get your hopes up, okay? If there's nothing to link to, you can just comment and I'll track down your post that way.

Favorite Christmas Ornaments

It's very easy! Just take a picture (or a few) of your favorite Christmas ornaments/decorations and add a brief description of why they mean something to you.

I have four ornaments to share with you:

This one is a University of Michigan themed nutcracker. Watching the Nutcracker ballet with my sister and mom is one of my favorite Christmas traditions, and having this little guy all decked out in Maize and Blue (a gift from my MIL) melds my two families delightfully!

This one is an old, old ornament from my childhood. We lived in Indonesia in the 1980's when I was between 5 and 7 years old, and this was a gift from our maid/cook/babysitter. I believe she made it herself. It's not fancy, but it's so Christmasy. I remember her and our time there every year when I put it on the tree.

Each member of our family has a stylized initial ornament just like this one. In February, soon after I lost Elizabeth, I went to do my weekly volunteering in Denver. The woman I'm working with likes a particular food bank, which also has a thrift store, and I was wandering the aisles, not looking for anything in particular, when I saw this "E." It exactly matches the initial ornaments the rest of us have. I cried, and bought it to put on our tree every year, so that Elizabeth is always with us, always remembered. I put her ornament right up top, next to the star, because it's closest to heaven up there.

This is probably the nicest ornament we own. The picture doesn't do it ANY justice at all. It's porcelain, made in Italy, and depicts the Madonna kneeling in prayer by the infant Jesus in the manger. The star overhead forms a ray of light connecting with Jesus' halo, and that's how the ornament hangs, by the star. It is such a beautiful ornament with such lovely symbolism.

I hope that your Christmases are very merry, filled with the joy of His birth and the warmth of family and friends to share it with. All my love and wishes for a very Happy New Year, too!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Additional comfort from around the blogosphere!

God has led me to a few different posts here and there to reiterate that I am not perfect, nor should I expect to be, and that the journey towards holiness is a lifelong one.

From Michael Hallman:
The simple reality of our bodiliness is such that we are destined for these ebbs and flows, for times of fatigue, depression, anxiety, fear, irritability, hunger, and so on, all of which can have a profound impact on our spiritual reality and spiritual consciousness. When we add on to this the various illnesses, both physical and mental, that so often affect persons, then we are forced to confront the reality that in this unglorified state of the pre-resurrected body, we will fall, we will sin, we will doubt, we will be cold in charity, we will despair. This is not to say that we are powerless over all of this, and so we strive each day anew to turn to God in prayer, to live renewed in Jesus Christ, to love as best we can. But these challenges will always be with us and be a part of our daily existence.

From Vox-Nova:
An example that comes to mind is St. Thomas Aquinas whose family sent a prostitute to his room to try to tempt him. He didn’t chase her out with a stick. He reasoned with her and showed compassion. She left a repentant Christian. St. Thomas More is another. His treatment of others as the Church in England went over to Protestantism is a wonderful model of Christian witness. Neither of them glossed over or ignored the reality before them, rather they gave loving witness to the truth.

From Abigail's Alcove:
In the wise words of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, however, "God never asked me to be successful. God asked me to be faithful."

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Growing in Grace

I'm taking a great deal of comfort from one of Jen's recent posts titled "When I Am Weak, Then I Am...Weak" The comments detail some of the more elusive mysteries of being a true Christian, namely, allowing God's power to work through us in our imperfections. As the wife of an atheist, this is the sort of thing that I have huge problems trying to explain to someone who has no concept of a higher power, and who thinks so-called "Christians" are just using their religion as an excuse to judge and oppress people.

I've been trying for quite some time to communicate to my husband the benefits of belief in God, a point which he vehemently disputes. I wish he could read the beautiful words of those commenters, faithful men and women who are using all their strength to be humble instruments of God's will. The countless stories of finding peace even in the midst of severe sickness illustrate to me so clearly that faith allows weak and imperfect people to be powerful instruments of love in the world. Surely that is a benefit to faith!

Jen's follow up post about letting it be God who does all the work, also resonated with me very deeply. I recently spent some time with an old friend. We used to be quite close, but now our values and lifestyles are so different that it's hard to come up with topics of conversation that don't result in an argument. I still don't know how to handle conversations with her, and am always worried that she might criticize my life choices, or that I won't be able to refrain from criticizing hers, even if unintentionally.

I struggle with how I am supposed to be around her. When I keep my opinions to myself, I feel that I am not being authentic, but I don't know how to explain my beliefs without casting aspersions on hers. I avoid calling her, and spend the few conversations we do have praying to the Holy Spirit to guide me.

And inside...oh, inside! As CS Lewis put it,
"I am suffering incessant temptations to uncharitable thoughts at present; one of those black moods in which nearly all one's friends seem to be selfish or even false. And how terrible that there should be even a kind of pleasure in thinking evil.”
I have such a hard time loving unconditionally. Yet I don't feel that God is calling me to end those relationships that challenge me. I know that everyone has people like this in their lives. And I have been abundantly blessed with true friends who are delightful company, honest and caring, and interested in many of the same things as I.

I am ashamed of myself for complaining. What sort of an example am I setting to my husband? Is this how one is "made strong in Christ?" Clearly, I am not a true Christian. When I think of how St. Therese of the Little Flower taught herself to see Christ in the mean nun that everyone hated, and how successful she was at radiating joy in the woman's presence, I am filled with shame at my pitiful attempts to "endure" her company.

I have spent my whole life struggling with this exact problem. And at the ripe age of 34, I have so little to show for it. True, I have maintained relationships with people I don't actually like. But those relationships are neither satisfying nor healthy. All I want to do is cry and run away.

I have been beating myself up for not being "better" when I read Jen's posts, and it dawned on me that I have never been weaker than I am right now. Physically, emotionally and spiritually, I am sunken as low as it gets. Perhaps God's strength is flowing through me. Perhaps keeping my opinions to myself is all I can accomplish in my vulnerable and emotional state. Perhaps, right now, that's all God is asking of me.

I am hearing Him say, over and over again, "Let go. It's in my hands. Trust me." He has said this about my son's schooling, about my marriage, about the adoption, about everything. I can't have it my way. I don't get to have a perfect life with no tension and no drama. I may want that, but I don't get to have it. I just have to let it go.

I have to let go of the person I want to be, too. I am not perfect. I don't get to hold my head high and think, well, at least I know I am following God's will and doing as He asks of me. I may want that, but I don't get to have it! Instead I get a slow, creeping progression where I struggle to determine what sort of relationship I can have with people I don't like, and then the even harder struggle to hold fast to my boundaries while still allowing room for hope, love, and compassion. I get to be ashamed of myself, and have to ask forgiveness for the opportunities I missed and the uncharitable thoughts I allowed to fester.

I don't want this to seem at all like some sort of justification for my imperfections, but rather as a way to put them in perspective. I am trying. Trying, and failing, as humans do. I will continue to try, because I will continue to have hope. I am starting to see just how important hope is, and how much can be accomplished by someone who hopes and trusts in the Lord, and who does not give up (either on themselves or on others!)

I hope I'm growing in grace. If, at the end of the day, all I am able to do is keep silent and pray, then that's what I'll do. And I'll hope that someday, if God wills it, I can do all in Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)