That's where I was four days before Christmas. There was no money for presents. There was no hope of having any, really. My house was a mess, the Christmas tree was looking like a very unlikely prospect for this year and I felt buffeted by every malady known to man. I was worried (really, beyond worried) about the music for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I was worried about my daughter and son and all the things that they have been faced with these past few months. I had been fighting with my daughter over even the smallest things. And then, I lost an old friend the week before Christmas. So, I found myself, finally, face down in front of the Blessed Sacrament sobbing. Believe it or not, those tears were the best gift I got this Christmas.
During the months of November and December, I had been to the doctor every week for something new. First it was pneumonia, then it was strep, then I had to be hospitalized for a TIA (a mini-stroke). Because of all this time off, I was failing two of my three college classes and realized that I was going to have to take them again in the Spring. And then, to top it all off, I tore the meniscus in my knee. By the time it was the week before Christmas, though everything was healing up and I was beginning to regain control of the household (as much control as I ever have,) everything felt so wrong. I can't really describe it any other way. Nothing was going the right direction. I couldn't please anyone and I felt like I was getting nothing done. I felt as if everything was spinning out of control.
When I talked about it with my friends and my husband, they all counseled me to slow down. This was good advice, but, when you are a church musician, there is nothing slow about Christmas. My daughter, ever at the ready with a quip or smart remark, told me "'Jesus take the wheel.' That's what you have to do, Mom. Just say it." In my usual control-freak way, I just laughed at her. "Oh sure...I'll just do that, kid. You just don't understand." But, really, it was me that didn't understand.
Every morning, when I drop my husband off for work, I turn on our local Catholic radio station (AM 820 - St. Gabriel Radio, for those in the Central Ohio area). On the Wednesday before Christmas, the speaker for the timeslot I usually catch was a woman by the name of Kitty Cleveland. Kitty was speaking of her surrender of her will to God's will. Having just written a post about remembering that control over "the situation" is what got Eve in trouble in the first place, I was intrigued to hear her story.
I had already decided to go to church and spend some time in prayer. Our parish has no mass on Wednesday morning (we have it on Wednesday evening,) so I knew the church would be empty and I could just rest, but as I listened to Kitty's story about surrendering her will to God, I knew that this was what I had been missing and I began to cry. I had been trying to be God. I had taken control, all right. But in the process, I had made a mess of everything. God wanted my attention and I was too busy trying to do whatever it is that I do to listen. It had been ages since I had done any Eucharistic adoration (except for a little time on First Fridays after morning mass) and I knew that I needed some "face time" with Jesus. I was headed to the right place.
Now, lying prostrate on a tile floor is not the easiest place to be when you have an injured knee, but it was the only place I wanted to be. I didn't care how much it hurt to get down on that floor and I wasn't even considering how I was going to get back up. I opened the Church up and went straight to the front to throw myself at the foot of the altar. There I cried. I grieved. I burned for forgiveness and comfort, direction and purpose. I made a puddle on the floor with my tears and I was not sorry for having done so (but I did have to get a mop to clean it up). And God comforted me.
Words of hymns came into my head as I lay there. I could suddenly remember every word of "I Heard The Voice Of Jesus Say". I remembered all of the :"Memorare" (a prayer that I have never memorized and couldn't recite it today). I know that I spent at least an hour on the floor. Once the tears had stopped, I just continued to lay there and praise God for His work in my life and the wonderful gifts he had given me in my music and my friends and family. It was at that moment, that I realized that none of the stocking stuffers or beautifully wrapped Christmas gifts I could put under my tree would ever be greater than the gifts I already had been given. I managed to drag myself over to a pew and sat there for about another 40 minutes, reading Morning Prayer and singing "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" and really focusing on the words and praying them. I finally left when the staff began to arrive. My face was swollen and I really didn't want to explain why.
When I finally arrived home, my daughter asked me where I'd been and I told her, "Face down in the middle of the floor at St. Stephen's. Crying."
"Mom, why would you do that?" she asked
"Well, sometimes you just find that you have to do that. You know...surrender..." I trailed off.
She looked at me and said, "Oh, I get it, Mommy. 'Jesus take the wheel.'"
On Friday morning, I went to Mass. Father spoke about how sin diminishes us and makes us less than we were before. Like an illness, it takes time to recover, even after you've been to confession and done your penance. The reading was about Zechariah naming John the Baptist and about how Zechariah's first words after his speech was restored were words of praise for God's great gifts. Father talked about how Zechariah took what little he had left in him and used it for praising God. It took all he had to give up his will and then praise God for the gifts he had been given. This really hit home for me. There was no way Father could have known about my time in the church on Wednesday. No one was in the building at all and even if they had been, I hadn't been speaking out loud.
After mass, at coffee hour, Father came over to announce that the poinsettias had arrived for Christmas. I went over to see if I could help put them out. We went back to the storage room and got out the wreaths and I discovered that we had no Christmas tree at the church. And as I was standing in there, I realized that I could decorate the church. I didn't need to decorate the house. I needed to bring what I had and decorate the church. So, that's what I did. I didn't care if I got the house decorated. It was no longer important. I wanted to use what I had to make something beautiful for God and that act of surrender opened the door for the most beautiful Christmas I have ever had.
The next day, Christmas Eve, the kids and my husband cleaned up and decorated our house while I rested up for Christmas Eve mass. We got some small gifts for the kids. Nothing big. In fact, one got a can of Hot Cocoa and the other got Cap'n Crunch. I got a small gift for my husband and somehow, the children managed to find time to buy me a pair of cloisonne earrings. That was it. No piles of presents. No 2 AM wrapping of gifts. No bags of wrapping paper and blister pack remnants. And because we were expecting nothing at all, it was that much sweeter. It reminded me of the fact that even though we could never merit the grace of God, he gives it to us anyway. All we have to do it open our hearts to it.
The Christmas Masses were beautiful. The music was lovely and we gave glory to God for the gift of His Son in the incarnation and all other Christmas gifts pale by comparison.
"Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus!"
Merry Christmas to all of you and best wishes for a blessed new year!