19 Dec A Mother’s Advent
By Ida Gazzola
As abruptly as a car crash, her mood changed from efficiency to revenge. The children were bickering again, loudly and uselessly. In a space of time almost too small to notice, the choice of anger and calm firmness had hung in front of her eyes. She had chosen anger. The decision had been hers and she knew it.
And I’m supposed to be the mature one here. Regret obediently followed anger, dampening her mood further.
Advent had begun. Before it had started, the children had spoken of it, only allowing small threads of excitement to escape. But secretly, their minds watered and fed an enclosure of imaginings set to release upon the first day.
Peace, joy, love for one another. Materialism (one must get what one wants), hedonism, pleasure seeking at the expense of more worthy ideals. These extremes lived in her house and did daily battle.
She struggled. How can my family have the peace that is at the heart of Christmas? She prayed daily – she knew that in itself was a lifeline. Together the family regularly did some small devotions – night time prayers, grace, lighting the advent wreath with a prayer. But, more was needed. Mentally, she drew an image of what her home should be – softness, each person serving the others, fun and laughter, many quiet moments….
Lord, tell us how our home, our family can be like this, can be enduringly happy. Decades of personal experience had taught her that prayer would illuminate the darkness of her problems. She also knew that prayer was outside of time. Once a prayer took form, the answer also materialized… and was released at the right time.
A slight drizzle hit the windshield as she drove the grey streets to pick up the children from school.
How to help my family be cheerful, peaceful… to live Advent well… to prepare for Christmas. The thoughts turned over in her mind.
Baby Jesus! It was as if an envelope had been presented to her. Inside was the letter, the answer to her question. With a bit of a struggle, feeling the weakness of her human brain, she opened it. The inside was a repetition of the outside. Baby Jesus. He was the answer. What did He mean to her? To her family?
By the time she reached the school, a plan had formed. Each member of the family would prepare to welcome Jesus into their hearts by cleaning out the debris, the dross that had taken up residence within. Then, they would have a stable to welcome his birth, cleaned and swept, a soft lamp illuminating the shining walls within. She knew that, being both body and spirit, they needed to make this idea incarnate with a practical application.
“Hello girls!” She hugged her daughters with a radiant smile. They melted into her body, the soft winter coats adding to the warmth of the hug.
“I have an idea that I think you’ll like,” she told them as they climbed into the van. The excitement and expectancy of youth caused the girls to cry out and jump in their seats.
“The whole family is going to make a bed for Jesus for his arrival on Christmas day.” They had been given a baby Jesus doll last Christmas, one just the right size for cuddling, for speaking to, for contemplating. The bottom of a mandarin orange box was the perfect size for a bed. They would cover it with a cloth and then make a soft bed of hay, borrowed from a basket of Christmas goodies received a few years ago. But they wouldn’t do this all at once.
“Every time you do a good deed, you can put one piece of hay in the box. It can be a smile or a kind word or something helpful. It can even be when you are tempted to do something… like you almost yell at your sister, and then you stop yourself. That’s a good deed.”
“I love you, Mom!” Came the eight-year-old’s reply. “Now I have one piece of hay!”
The four-year-old was humming in the back seat, paying spotty attention to the proceedings.
“Will you shut up??” her older sister barked. In the rear view mirror, her mother caught a shock of realization flash across her face. “Oh, I’m sorry, Anna. I said sorry, now I have two pieces of hay!”
Engaging the girls, the mom asked, “What really happens every time we put some hay in Jesus’ bed?”
“He’s happy.” “He can sleep better.” “It’s soft!”
The eleven-year-old replied, “Well, it means we have done something nice for someone and Jesus likes that.”
“Yes. And what happens to us?” The girls were silent. Mom glanced around seeing puzzlement on the faces of some while others stared blankly out the window.
“We clean the stable of our heart so that Jesus will find it that way when he comes to it on Christmas day.”
Round eyes now looked at her, ingesting her meaning.
The daily whirlwind of snacks, unpacking, homework, chores, piano, dinner, bedtime routines and the ever present unexpected task held the family in its grip until at last the mom and dad were nestled together on the couch to catch up and watch a show.
As the cease of the rush in the house allowed the waves in her mind to dissipate, she became aware once more of the baby Jesus project. She had not prepared his bed as she had planned. Or brought out the hay. The thought of dragging herself up the stairs … I’ll do it for sure tomorrow. She hoped she meant it. The first week of advent was almost over. She was disappointed in herself for having good intentions but lacking the follow through. A pinprick of bitterness passed through her.
She did set up his bed the next day. The orange carton was covered with an old piece of blue material (his mother’s colour) and the hay found and emptied into a spare basket. Both were placed on the cleared kitchen counter – one of the only places the one year old wouldn’t be able to climb up to.
So started the bed making. Kind words intermingled with fights. Apologies allowed more hay to be placed and tongues occasionally held back the words self-centeredness placed on them. It was slow going, but it seemed a bed would be made after all.
And, internally, small changes were also taking place. Sediment caked onto stable walls allowed itself to be slowly softened. Sharp words were erased with hugs, kind actions, loving looks. Yet the dirt was not completely eradicated.
Compared to last week, I guess it’s better… but why is our home not constantly peaceful, consistently bright and cheerful? What are we doing wrong?
Little flashes of self-pity popped like fireworks within her. She was sitting on the couch, spending some minutes in meditation. Reality snapped and she realized she had been conversing with herself, not with her God. The eyes of her soul lifted and focussed on his immenseness. Then a silent conversation ensued with her Jesus.
Those quiet moments I long for… quiet for myself and within my family… those moments are just that. Small oases among the busyness and the storms. An oases is not the entire landscape of life, it’s just a part of it. So how to accept the whole of life without rebelling against it? No, acceptance is not the right word. Too cold. How do I embrace the whole of life?
She looked down at the plastic baby Jesus doll on its bed of scanty hay and searched for an answer. Remembrances of holding her own newborns surfaced from protected depths. As she held him memory, the present and a long-ago past in Bethlehem mingled and synchronized. And a small notion formed in her mind as that of the tiniest baby upon conception. Small, simple and very real. Just as his helplessness was a paradox to his greatness, so she realized that ‘imperfect’ circumstances could give birth to greatness within. She had tried stoicism before and this was not that. This was a complete embrace, an absolute unification. He was how she would get through it. It was he alone, born as an infant, who had the strength to carry her. He would teach her now and endlessly that the fullness of life consists not in perfection but in small battles won…. and in battles lost since with him there were innumerable new opportunities. And so, as did his tender mother, she had only to join her yes to him.