An unexpectedly blessed Christmas

I approached the Christmas season with a healthy amount of dread, as I have previously wrote about in this post.  I planned on avoiding all family gatherings and had a great excuse because of the hours I was working the fact that I would need any time off to rest.  But, as it often happens, things change.  Yesterday, we ended up at my parents’ house for Christmas, which was unplanned.  My brother was released from jail about two weeks ago and he’s living in a halfway house for the next 3 months to a year (depending on the court).  He was released for 36 hours to have Christmas with the family, and I expected things to be uncomfortable and awkward.  After all, I’ve been angry and frustrated with him for a very long time and have felt myself completely disconnected from much of my family because of the things that have gone one.  Even so, I arrived bearing gifts, and even got my brother one – a basket filled with toiletries and snacks and books (things I knew he needed while living in the halfway house).  When we got to Mom and Dad’s, it was astonishing how quickly things went back to the way they used to be.  We hugged.  We laughed.  We talked.  I felt like I had my brother back.  Much thinner and hardened from his time in jail, but he was sober. He was very much the brother I remember with his dry sense of humor and eyes sparkling with amusement. I haven’t seen him like that in a very long time.  All these memories of Christmases past hit me and I just missed him so much at that moment.  His sobriety is such a tentative place, like someone standing on a tightrope.  He could fall off at any moment and then we’re back where we all started, but I have to be hopeful that this time, this particular time, may be the one that finally changes him for good.

My husband, who has a very rocky history with my brother, opened up much the same way I did, and our short visit turned into a much longer one.  It was great to have the family together, and no one was more thankful than my mom, who had so desperately wanted her kids together at Christmas and was originally not going to see either one of us since he was in jail and I wasn’t coming home.  And even though UPS failed to deliver all the presents she had ordered, we all had a wonderful time.  It felt like Christmas is supposed to feel – warm and full of love.

Later, once we made the exhausting drive back to our home and slept for a few hours, I found myself at midnight Mass.  I chose this particular church because, not only did they have a true midnight Mass (nothing bugs me more than a “midnight” mass that starts at 1opm), but they also have a perpetual adoration chapel.  During my days as a devout Catholic, I found so much peace in perpetual adoration.  I used to go three times a week on my lunch break and sit before the Real Presence.  I haven’t done it in years, obviously, but I spent about 20 minutes prior to Mass in that quiet space, with a few other people, and I prayed.  For my family.  For my brother.  For my husband.  For my own sense of much-needed peace.  For an answer to where God wants me to worship.  It was at that moment, in front of the Real Presence, when I truly heard that “still, small voice.”  And do you know what the Holy Spirit said?  He said, and I’m quoting here, “Duh.”  You may ask why that’s what I heard, but let me explain – I’ve so much wanted to be part of a faith that I could live.  Something alive and fluid.  I want something that helps me and guides me to pray daily and offers resources to keep me inspired and edified.  And the “duh” was because I already had it once and I walked away from it.  I had it, more than at any other point in my life, when I was an active Roman Catholic.  I let my frustrations with the Church and it’s almost laser-like focus on pro-life activities at the expense of everything else guide me away from the church.  I was never a fan of Pope Benedict because I just couldn’t connect to him like I had with Pope John Paul II.  (I began my RCIA classes during PJP2’s rein.)  Then Benedict stepped aside and Pope Francis was elected, and I started to take notice.  I can honestly say that I really admire Pope Francis.  The fact that he straight-up pointed out that there was too much focus on only certain things (pro-life, anti-gay) at the expense of the rest of Christian life made me say, “I think I like this guy.”  Everything he does or says makes me love him more, and I feel like, if ever there was a time to come back to the RCC, it’s under Pope Francis.  He’s truly a shepherd of the Lord.  So during midnight Mass, I stood aside while everyone else participated in the Eucharist because I haven’t been to confession in four years.  I haven’t committed to returning to the church yet, of course, because I’m still feeling so confused by everything.  But I’m going to try to reconnect with that former part of myself and see where it takes me.

It’s funny that everyone focuses on gifts at Christmas and yes, I did get some great gifts, but the gift I got that meant the most is something I haven’t had in a long time – hope.  I’d given up hope a long time ago because disappointment kept weighing it down.  The funny thing about hope is that, when you have it, your spirit is kind of buoyed, like a plastic toy floating in the ocean.  It won’t sink and it can’t sink because it’s hollow and filled with air.  Sure, a swell may hit that plastic toy and take it under for a minute or two, but it’s eventually going to bob to the surface again because that’s just the way physics works.  Hope is completely the same way!  It’s time to open my eyes, grasp on to these thin threads of hope, and hold on tight.  Yes, I’m going to be dragged beneath the waves, but the hope in my chest will help me bob to the surface again.  It’s cold and dark where I’ve been, and it’s time to find some strength in the light of where I’m going.

The Real Presence at the perpetual adoration chapel I visited.

The Real Presence at the perpetual adoration chapel I visited.

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