As I pack away the manger scene, I can’t help but wonder about that other nursery. The one that Mary and Joseph must have planned for their new baby, ready for the return from their journey to Bethlehem. The one Mary must have thought about while she laid her baby in a pile of straw in a feeding trough, and perhaps looked forward to returning to when the census duty was fulfilled and the strange visitors had gone home. Until an Angel gave word that the divine GPS was again recalculating their trip, with a multi-year sojourn in Egypt in lieu of a return to Nazareth.
I wonder what happened to the cradle that Joseph the carpenter would have hand-crafted for little Jesus to sleep in. Or to the baby blankets and clothes that Mary would have sat sewing while the tiny heart of God beat just beneath her own. What happened to their home, their things, while they were exiled in Egypt? Were they given to charity, or sold off at tag-sale prices in Nazareth?
The Christmas scene gives us much to ponder with the heart of Mary, about the humility of God and the lowliness to which love will stoop. One can only be in awe of the Virgin who smiles serenely while her newborn sleeps where animals eat, having just given birth there because nobody could be bothered to offer a real bed to a woman in labor. One can only admire the courage of Joseph, tasked with protecting and providing for a newborn God and the Immaculate Conception, when kings and angels kept interfering with his plans, to the point where he had to lead his little family in flight for their lives.
This year, it’s the plans of Mary and Joseph that I am drawn to meditate on. Plans that it is only human to make, and divine to unmake. Plans that had to be given up, in order that the world might be given something better.
* * *
On the wall of my office that was (before my own plans were most recently unmade), there hung two calendars. One was for the current month; the other allowed me to see the month that was to come. I sometimes imagine a divine version of Facebook, in which the Trinity shares among themselves that photo as a meme with a giant capitalized “LOL” stamped over it.
“You need to let go of what you think your life should look like” I was told at the beginning of 2016. I looked at my calendar and wondered what minor adjustments the year might bring. I begin 2017 with my plans and the life I had built for myself reduced to a pile of straw.
How merciful God is then, that He should make a habit of coming to be with us in the straw!
* * *
If you know me well enough to be reading this, chances are you are familiar with the basic script. How on September 13th, a call came that changed everything. How I drove from my apartment in NYC to Millbrook, not knowing that I would not be going home again. My mom went into the ER for what seemed to be a minor illness; she returned home to Millbrook on December 19th (97 days later) still battling a mysterious brain disease that caused multiple strokes and a host of other unexplained symptoms. (For those who missed it, you can read the story here).
It seemed at first that it would be temporary, this leaving behind of my old life, my apartment, my career. But now it seems that God has an entirely new plan for me, as I’ve moved home permanently and taken on the role of caregiver for my parents. The remnants of my former life are distributed among boxes and bags for storage, for the dumpster, or to be given away or sold. I am not sure who exactly I am some days, and my plans are by necessity too fluid to be pinned down by a calendar let alone two.
I would like to be like Mary in the manger scene, peering into the mess at a swaddled helpless God with a gaze of serene and uncompromised TRUST. But, more often than not, my own vocabulary has fewer letters in it. My daily aspirations are to shower and keep the 5th commandment, and most days I am only 1 for 2. [NB: #5 in the Catholic list of Commandments. Because otherwise, awkward.] If I am honest, I don’t always even see God in the straw and the mess.
* * *
But if the figure of the baby Jesus is too small to see sometimes, we can’t miss the shepherds and the wise men bearing gifts.
In the divine mystery, God chose to not only reveal divine love, but to become dependent on human love. And equally mysterious, in allowing ourselves to be likewise dependent, we discover God anew.
In the past four months, our family has been beyond blessed with so very many people coming to us with all kinds of help. On this Epiphany, I would like to thank those who have brought gifts to us of various kinds:
- Thank you to Mary S and the St. Joseph’s Women’s Guild, who organized many meals to be made and brought to us while Mom was in the hospital and then rehab, and for Cheryl F and Dreamland Daycare who gave us a Thanksgiving basket!
- Thank you to those who visited Mom in the hospital, or sent cards or emails to be read to her
- Thank you to Tricia C and Frassati Fellowship, who organized a massive fundraising campaign to help with her medical bills and related expenses. This has been a Godsend during a very tough time financially!
- Thank you to Ingrid and her team: Tricia again, Paul, Eric, Martin, Michael, Nivi, Bill and David, who came to help clean and decorate for Mom’s homecoming
- Thank you to Michael who lent us a car for several months, enabling us to travel to visit Mom daily in the hospital and also take care of Dad
- To all those who have donated through the YouCaring page—especially those who gave anonymously (and whom we can’t thank online)
- Thank you to Monsignor C, Cathy, Liz, Anne, and Andrea who helped and supported us in so many different ways, and to the many I have not named specifically but who are not forgotten!
* * *
Even as my heart warms with gratitude, I realize it’s not the story I would have written. “My New Year’s resolution is to become more dependent on others” said no one ever. Except for God.
“You have to let go of what you think God showing up in your life should look like” I was told just recently at the beginning of 2017.
I think about that other nursery in Nazareth, waiting for Baby God, so carefully planned and prepared. And empty, while He lies elsewhere in the straw.
Featured photo from Wikimedia commons CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=105871
Photo just above, Mom and her newest miracle