This is a deliberate choice on my part. It does not come easily.
The week before Christmas, my relatives came down with the flu. This was the same flu virus that, a few days earlier, had five of my family members sleeping in the living room, flopping over all the couches and chairs and cushions so I could check on fevers in the night. I am hoping we are not the reason they got ill, but chances are, we shared our germs. So sorry!
The week before Christmas, there was also a car accident. No one died! But one car was totaled, and several ribs were broken. Thank God my loved one will be all right. The car can be replaced. The ribs will mend…
The week of Christmas, in a separate incident, the brakes went out in our big truck. Not just a mild squeaking, but an all-out, light flashing, shrill beeping, call-a-tow-truck-your-brakes-are-out kind of thing. The thing went sliding backwards down a driveway. In true super-hero style, Doug let out a loud “Whoa!” and galloped into the open door and saved the day. He doesn’t even own a cowboy hat, but he wrangled that twelve year old, nine-passenger Suburban into submission, singlehandedly. I was impressed. I saw the whole thing happen, and I stood there slack-jawed, looking at the looming fence about to be squashed. I didn’t move until after it was all over.
Did I mention I have a large family? When one gets the flu, many more soon follow. Poor One with cracked up ribs had to go into seclusion to avoid the flu, as the cousins fell with fevers, one by one. Most of us missed Mass on Sunday. Missed confession. Missed band concerts, missed parties, missed school. Were we prepared for Christmas? Well, some of us even missed that.
But you know what? Christmas still came.
There was no snow to be seen, so for supper, Superman grilled deliciously marinated steaks outside. My job was to fill the oven with 23 large potatoes, and turn it on to bake while we went to Mass on Christmas Eve. It is not my forte to cook for a crowd. I’ll clean and smile, but please don’t put me in charge of a Christmas dinner for 20! My only job was potatoes.
Halfway through Mass, the panic button in my head rang out. I had forgotten to turn on the oven. My one, stupid, lowly job! Twenty three mammoth baking potatoes, and they would be raw. I knew my phone was in my pocket. A couple of quick clicks, and I could have texted someone to help me out. But what was I thinking??? This was Christmas Mass. If the Christ Child himself came to Earth that night, would I be present? Would I have been like the shepherds, leaving all worries, running to greet the Savior? I was so ashamed. I took my hand out of my coat pocket. I would not have been a shepherd, I would have been hanging out in the back fields, texting about potato emergencies. Caught up in a web of worry. Didn’t I think that the Savior of the World would watch over us, and help us in our troubles? It didn’t matter if those troubles were car accidents, broken bones, eleven cases of the flu, or even something as small as 23 raw potatoes… It would all be okay.
When the last “Joy to the World” had rung out, we left church to go dashing through the snow, over the river and through the woods.
And guess what? The ones who stayed home had seen the negligent error of my ways, and rescued the potatoes by turning on the oven. Christmas dinner was saved. The children improvised a (slightly sarcastic) song about all our troubles and our own Christmas Miracle of the Potatoes, which ended in peals of echoing laughter.
We ate our deliciously marinated steaks with spuds, enjoyed each other’s company, gave each other gifts, and had a lovely time.
Late at night, we left with presents piled high in the car, along with all the kids and the leftovers from supper.
A discovery was made the next morning. Somehow, in the pile of presents and leftovers, that stock pot of meat marinade had spilled in the back of the car.
Our car has literally been soaked in meat marinade. Used meat marinade. A salty concoction of fragrant garlic, soy, and ginger, made to tenderize and break down the meat, infusing it with unforgettable flavor and smells. Oh, we won’t be forgetting this smell. It billows out in an overpowering, smelly cloud when the car doors are opened. Thank God everything is frozen outside, or we would be driving an Evil, Raw-Meat Stenchmobile.
As I think back to the ruckus of this Christmas season, I have a choice to make. Choices like this one define our lives. What will I choose to remember? Will I cherish the bad times, becoming resentful and even envious of the picture-perfect Christmas photos I’ve been sent by others, the ones where all the kids are smiling together on a beach in the sunshine? Will I dwell on the negative, remembering the only difficulties? Or will I choose joy? Tough call.
But the choice is mine.
A: I can choose eleven cases of flu. Four broken ribs. Illness and pain. One totaled car. Twenty three forgotten potatoes. The failed brakes. And the spilled meat marinade still brewing, rancid in my car.
B: I can choose the moments of Joy.
They were there, you know.
Moments of Love, Joy and Peace.
Did I forget to mention those? Sometimes they are easy to overlook. Troubles are loud and demanding, but moments of Love, Joy and Peace are soft and sweet. They are the quiet candles, flickering in this dark world. These are the moments for which I am thankful. The gifts I want to cherish…
No alarm clock.
The dog wasn’t sick.
After Mass, in the hustle and bustle of evening darkness, some kids ran to the outdoor creche. The golden light shone around their silhouettes, gleaming warmth and radiating hope. They were the modern day shepherds, seeking the Child in the stable. They found him.
During the busiest week, my twelve year old made supper for me. He didn’t only cook “for me”, he did my cooking chores for me. That means supper for nine hungry people. It was delicious.
The children were all loving and kind to one another. No fights, no squabbles, only joy in being all together, out of school. Pure bliss.
One of the kids helped me wrap presents. Even her own. I enjoyed her company so much. She is infinitely better at details and decorating, being careful with corners and matching patterns. She made us all laugh by her choice of Disney Princess wrapping paper for the most obviously masculine gifts.
The school aged kids each gave us a beautifully glittered and glued Christmas card. One said “Merry Crhistmas. Thanks for being such a good Mom and Dad.” They will decorate my Christmas tree as long as the construction paper shall survive.
Stella perched on the couch next to me, and read me The Twelve Days of Christmas. All by herself. It is impossible to know which one of us was more pleased and proud.
On a quiet walk through the woods, the giant snowflakes fell slowly, melting fast. I came upon a grove of small trees, covered in glittering jewels of melted snowdrops. A thousand sparkling branches stretched out, adorned as royalty, hidden away off the path. A gift just for me and the raccoons.
Small One gave me a hug for a Christmas present. She wrapped her soft little arms around my neck, then gently touched my cheek.
“You’re the best Mommy I ever had. I love you.”
These are just some of the moments I choose.
They are everywhere, you know. Those seemingly elusive moments of Love, Joy and Peace. They are all around you, waiting to be noticed, treasures like the glittering jewels I found in the woods. Like the soft touch of a child’s hand in your own.
Despite the loud circus of troubles we encounter, Christmas has come. It has come, bringing gifts of Love, Joy and Peace. They quietly wait to be noticed, to be chosen, to be remembered.
And I search for them, very deliberately.
I choose Love and Peace.
I choose Joy.