“I’ll catch him as he comes up the stairs…”
What does it mean to give a meaningful present? One that is a true expression of our love… can we truly take our hearts and wrap them in shiny paper, and give them in a way that affirms the worth of the recipient, the very value in their existence? This is a great challenge.
When I was shopping recently for my kids, seeing so many rows upon rows of plastic nonsense toys in the huge box stores left me feeling empty. All this abundance seemed a bit pointless, when so much of it was soon to be destined for the dump. It’s not that I hate toys. I still have stuffed animals and doll house furniture from when I was a kid, not to mention my stamp collection and books.
I think what bothered me was all these unnecessary things being consumed so voraciously, when so many other children in the world don’t even have a bed, or clean water, or a home to call their own. No one has given them gifts to affirm the very worth of their existence. Perhaps they don’t even have parents to kiss them goodnight and tell them how much they are loved. But instead of simply being grinchy and depressed by this, I wanted to do something, even if it was something tiny.
So I found a way to take some of these little broken pieces of my heart, wrap them with love, and send them overseas. The kids and I did it together, because it is so important that they learn to give, and not just to expect gifts from life. They will be happier this way; moreover, they will be more truly human. What did we do then? I usually hate spending money but this was my absolute favourite shopping of this year! We visited charity websites like Doctors Without Borders and the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR.
We read about the impoverished and displaced people they help, and chose the gifts that spoke most to our hearts, like a sturdy tent to shelter a homeless family, blankets and mats to sleep on, and a water filter to provide clean water and help prevent disease. Another that tugged my heart strings was a Kangaroo Care Wrap that can double the chances of survival for a premie baby, by keeping her skin to skin and close to her mother’s heart. Having lost a full term baby girl five years ago, the idea of being able to help another baby survive was irresistible. For a mere $15, I could reach across the ocean and give a baby a chance at life, and a mother freedom from the tragedy of loss. My kids were really excited, too. They felt true joy at doing something so good for others.
Another wonderful charity is Chalice, which sponsors poor children, helps their parents learn to plan their finances carefully, and gives them support and tools with which to earn a more stable livelihood. So if you want to empower families in need to become more independent by giving gifts like livestock, seeds, farming tools, a sewing machine or bicycle, etc, this might be a great charity for you.
I hope you’ve found inspiration in the great work that many people are doing around the world. If there’s anyone left on your list this Christmas Eve, consider giving them a gift that truly affirms their humanity and your own. The charities will send a nice e-card describing the important gift that was given in your loved one’s name.
Remember, we are not mere consumers! We are not robots who can run on money and possessions alone. We are all, each and everyone of every race and background, children of God who are strengthened by loving each other more deeply. This is what the Incarnation is about. The God who loves us all so tenderly that he wanted to affirm our intrinsic worth and erase all fear or doubt of our worthiness of being loved from our minds. He wrapped his divine heart in the frail paper of humanity and came to live among us, as a shepherd smelling of his sheep. He brought all the light and glory and splendour and magic of Heaven down to earth, to share it with us through his creation, if we would only reach out our hands to touch his and embrace this precious gift of life.
I hope you can find him this Christmas. In all the organizational Olympics of preparing your home for Christmas, may you see God at each turn…in the smiling face of your children and guests, in the beautiful colours of your Christmas meal, in the sparkling colours of lights on your tree…but also in moments of loneliness, sadness or rejection, and in the poor faces of humanity across the world, who need affirmation that they, too, are truly beautiful and loved.
God bless you all this Christmas, and as my favourite radio man Archishop Fulton Sheen used to say, “God love you!”
Lights, tinsel and a few dollar store decorations–nothing that fancy–but put together, magic enough to delight the child in everyone!
This afternoon while the toddler was sleeping, my eldest daughter set up our nativity set. It is a beautiful porcelain one given to us by my sweet Auntie Shirley, who is a retired interior decorator with an eye for beauty. We are very honoured to have her nativity.
Going to her home as a child and having Christmas dinner with all the cousins was for me the essence of cozy family closeness. Being there laughing and singing with everyone gave me a warmth that stays with me today, and makes me want my home to be such an open, welcoming place as my Auntie Shirley and Uncle Bill’s was.
I hope everyone has a joyful place to be this Christmas, and that they know how loved they are, just as they are, by the God who became small enough to put his tiny hand in ours, even though his heart contains the entire universe. Sometimes it is hard to comprehend that we are loved unconditionally. We feel it’s impossible–that nothing in life is free–but in this case we are wrong. We don’t have to earn the love that preceded our existence.
“I’ve been alive forever,” my little son told me the other day with conviction. “Always and always.” “Well, you’ve always existed in God’s heart; he always had the plan to make you.”
It is hard for us to comprehend this kind of generosity…only as parents can we imagine it a little, knowing how much we love our kids, even before they are born. I think it’s partly why God came to us as a poor, tiny baby, smelling of hay and breathed on by donkeys–so we wouldn’t be afraid of loving him, and even harder, wouldn’t be afraid of letting him love us, just as we are.
Rather than a call to apathy, this love is a call to greatness, for can anything inspire us more to want to grow better, than the firm conviction that we are already loved, exactly as we are? It is mercy and not harshness that helps us live and love well. It takes great strength to love others while also helping them to grow. May we finish this year living with mercy, strength and love, and may we be helped to do so by the sweet God who loves us even when we fail.
Christmas is coming and there’s a lot of emphasis on being happy in this season of joy. But life with all it’s challenges continues in December like in any month, with extra business on top of it, so here’s a poem for anyone out there who’s had a bad day recently. You’re not alone!
Sometimes the best way to feel better is to allow yourself to feel crummy for a little while instead of fighting it. For me, writing poetry helps me indulge in my melancholy mood and then let it go, rather than having sadness trapped inside.
Oh, imperfect messiness!
Oh, easily screwed up days,
and ever unchanging weaknesses…
Wounds that hide and reappear
like dolphins under water
surfacing for breath,
seeking light and healing
and disappearing again.
Am I am I am I
ever going to grow?
Going to stop failing,
stop saying bitter things–
crouching under a shield of sarcasm
feeling so small
I have to pretend
But, oh! God bless me
and help me never give up trying.
Each day let me not be crushed
I am scuffed up and tiny
but thus you have made me
and love me through it all.
Amen to life!
Because I may be a fool
but even a fool can live life
when poked in the eye,
curls up into his shell
and pretends to die.
Sealed up, breathless,
in his perfect shell,
in suffocating safety
he chooses to dwell.
“Alone in the dark,
do not remain,
for home is a prison
when full of pain.
Do come out,
timid little snail,
to slowly leave your
little silver trail.
People may laugh
but how dare despise
that God made you
with your googley eyes?
Don’t be alone,
but join us here,
there is no life,
where there’s no fear.”
Thanks to unsplash for the gorgeous shot above.
It’s been a while since I shared some words from my littles…the first two quotes are from three years ago…but at last, here they are!
One Saturday I was unsuccessfully trying to indulge in a few moments alone to read my book from the library (I actually got one for me–hurrah!). Of course, despite sitting quietly on the far corner of my bed with the door closed, I was soon detected by the mommy radars and joined by several munchkins.
5 year old daughter: What are you doing, Mummy?
Me: Reading my book.
Her: But you’re being quiet. Do you hear it inside your head?
Her: Leaning her forehead against mine and staring at me seriously with her giant blue eyes, “If I come really close, can I hear it, too?”
One late afternoon I was cuddling my 5 year old and being goofy (by that time of day my few remaining braincells have usually lost any remaining ability to function normally).
Me: Fancy meeting you here! Do I know you?
Her: Yes, I’m me.
Me: Hi, Me…oh, I thought I was me?
Her: No, you’re you!
And one more from just the other day…
Aliens Among Us
My four year old: Mom, how big does people get? Six?
Me: Six feet tall, you mean?
Him: Maaahm, that would be an alien, with six feet!
How gallantly I must strive to restrain thee!
Galloping off wildly
in pursuit of so many passions,
insistently stomping and frothing at the mouth.
Calm thyself, wild stallion of speech!
For words lose power when overused,
like a man who always stands
on the top of a hill
flapping his arms–
after a while,
the feeling of alarm fades and
one simply gets used to the wind.
The grieving heart takes comfort
in little things
like blueberry muffins with butter
and feeding crumbs to the crows,
who swoop down to my garage roof
like silent grateful shadows
to gather them.