I love this painting. It's completely unromanticized. The stable is bare. Joseph looks somber. Mary is exhausted. And, Jesus is radiant.
It was a rough Christmas for me. I got the "stomach flu" on Christmas Eve. Now, I know that there is no actual disease called the "stomach flu," but it was a combination stomach bug with influenza-like symptoms. Quite frankly, I've never felt sicker in my life.
It all started when I suddenly became exhausted at our friends' house where we had gone to celebrate with a Christmas Eve dinner before going to vigil Mass at 9:00. A little before 8 PM, I told my husband I thought I would need to leave. I think our friends were smirking to themselves that I was probably pregnant--I'm not, by the way! I wasn't sure I could go to Mass, but we decided to make a go of it. We swung home so I could take some stomach medicine and then went on to church, though, because we didn't want to have to drag the kids to the crowded Christmas morning services if we could help it.
Well, the church was beautiful. And, what should the opening hymn be but my all time favorite Christmas Carol, "Adeste Fideles." That's Latin for "O Come All Ye Faithful," for those of you who don't know, and I have always been especially partial to the Latin version. I weakly sang along for the first two verses. For the third, I was forced to take my seat. About five minutes later, I turned to Brian, pale and sweaty and said, "I think I have to go home now." We'd barely made it inside before I ran for the bathroom. Between the aches, the chills, and the frequent dashing out of the room--not to mention breastfeeding my abnormally hungry son--it was a very long night.
I had finished throwing up by about seven o'clock Christmas morning, but I was achy, exhausted, chilled, and summarily walloped. Needless to say, since I was in no shape to go out and we were all potentially very contagious, Mass was out of the question. Still, we wanted to celebrate. So, my husband helped me lay out the gifts and stuff the stockings, which I had not be in any condition to do the night before. Then, Sophia woke up, and the merry-making began with words of joy and a trip to the living room to see what St. Nicholas had left in our stockings.
We had to cancel our Eggs Benedict plans, a thing that has not happened to me for twenty years, since the tradition was first begun. Brian and Sophia ate instant oatmeal. Sophia was pleased that hers had raisins. I didn't eat anything at all, just tried to keep myself hydrated with plain water. We opened gifts. Sophia didn't mind passing them out while I lay limply on the couch. She was even amiable about not opening other people's gifts--a big feat for a two year old! She also "gave Mama snuggles" to make me feel better, and oh, it did! She also got to put the baby Jesus in the manger herself this year, since Mama was out of action. He ended up sideways and on his tummy, but I think He was comfortable.
I don't know if my family realized it as I lay almost motionless on the couch without any of my characteristic bubbly enthusiasm, but I felt so joyful! Sick, but joyful. I loved seeing the delight in my daughters eyes as she received her specially chosen gifts. I relished my infant son's grins and the fact that he was even enjoying his new wooden car as much as the wrapping paper and bows! I was particularly gladdened to see my husband's evident joy, a thing he has not always been able to express since he grew up in a home where it was not easy to do so.
I didn't have much strength, though, and when the present opening was finished, I retreated back to the bedroom to sleep for several hours, waking only long enough to feed James when he got hungry and Brian brought him in to me. Brian put the turkey in the oven for Christmas dinner and played with the kids. I fell asleep to the sound of him strumming his new guitar, and my daughter chattering away joyfully to him about her new toys. It was a glorious sound.
I woke from my daze just in time for Brian to go pick my mother up from the airport. Miraculously, her flight had only been delayed two hours. I was starting to feel hungry for the first time in twenty-four hours. Since Brian took the kids with him to the airport, I was able to finish clearing up (Brian had already done a good deal of it himself) and put the finishing touches on dinner. I also had some time to reflect, and these are the three lessons that I learned this year:
- Preparation really is worth its weight in gold. Despite being completley out of action for about twenty-four hours, the presents were opened, a turkey dinner was served, music was played, halls were decked, Jesus was glorified--Christmas was beautiful. And, it didn't require anything from me on the day except my presence. It made me excited to know that if I hadn't been sick, I still would have been able to lay around all day simply soaking in the beauty of the holiday.
- I don't have to do everything. My husband and children--among others--come through for me in the most unexpected and beautiful ways all the time. Knowing this, I'm not sure how I ever fall into the trap of thinking that I have to do everything myself, but inevitably I do. This Christmas was a glorious reminder that I don't have to do it all myself, and it will still be wonderful--maybe even better than I had planned. Sometimes it is good to be weak so that we can be surprised by His Providence.
- This is how it was. Did Joseph want his new bride to give birth in a dirty barn? Was Mary planning to labor practically in the open air and then lay her new Son--God's Son--in a feed box? It wasn't pretty. It wasn't what they had planned. It was dark and probably cold and not at all like a fairytale. But, it was glorious, because He came. That's all it needed. Jesus. I was reminded of that this Christmas in a powerful way. What better gift could I have asked for? Maybe next year, I won't need the stomach flu to get the message.
How did God touch your heart or mind this Christmas? And, don't forget to be thinking of your 10 for '10!