Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue


Finding Christmas

posted by Beyond Blue

xmas tree.jpgThis reflection was from three years ago, but is still very real every Christmas.


I’m starting to understand Christmas as the season where Christ comes to visit you in the most unexpected ways. If you can only quiet yourself for a few days–unplug the computer, forget your cell phone, and head to the ICU of a major hospital, where family members are praying besides the beds of their sick loved ones–he is there. He is more generous than Santa, more magical that flying reindeer, more beautiful than snow angels.

During my senior year of college, a priest friend asked me to give a reflection during one of our chapel services about what it was like volunteering every Friday night with the homeless. I drafted this piece about how wonderful it was to give back a morsel of what I have been given, how we are commanded by Jesus to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. And then I ripped it up. Because the truth is, aside from the night one woman threw up all over me, I didn’t give them anything. It was they, who gave me a great gift.

Especially the artist who, despite his severe Parkinson’s, taught me how to draw exquisite birds with just a black pen, and then gave me five beautiful sketches to take home and frame.

That was around Christmas time. And I recognized the face of Christ in him.
Just like I did last weekend, camping out in the waiting room outside the ICU of a VA hospital in New York City, where one of my best friend’s husband lie fighting infection after infection, enduring surgery after surgery–on a ventilator, drip, and every IV you get to keep you alive–all brought on unexpectedly from an emergency gall bladder surgery.

It was one of the ugliest weekends of my life (keep in mind I’ve potty trained two kids): hearing tales of gushing blood, open incisions, jaundice eyes, and discolored urine.
I couldn’t help but curse God through some of it.

“What in the hell are you doing with this one?” I asked him repeatedly seeing the forlorn expression on Michelle’s face returning from her visit with Bob, her husband of 10 years, or from a chat with one of the five doctors who disclosed more bad news of infections, fevers, damaged organs, and bad white-cell counts.

I wondered how a person in such a situation, after seeing her husband–a pastor who has brought countless people to God–in such tremendous pain, could hang on to her faith. Because seeing this thing up close made me doubt my own.

In the days that followed the weekend, I found myself–after reciting my usual mantra “Take it, God”–saying, Yeah, but what about Bob? During the 265 times a day that I would get distracted in unhealthy thoughts–when I encountered a pothole on recovery lane–I was having difficulty telling myself to trust in God. What about Bob? What about Bob? What about Bob? Just like that Bill Murray flick, “What About Bob?”

“Aren’t you a tad ticked off at God?” I asked Michelle one afternoon at the hospital.

“Of course,” she replied. “I’m very upset with him. But not enough to throw out a half of century of faith in him.”

Nor did her tragedy interfere with her generosity and compassion towards others in similar situations. To the woman whose husband was fighting cancer she gave a signed copy of her book about cancer, “Every Day With Hair Is a Good Hair Day.” She asked the man whose wife had just had brain surgery if she could bring him some lasagna, at which point I started poking her, reminding her that his wife had graduated to the step-down unit, out of the fun corner of the hospital where you live minute by minute. In other words, SKIP THE LASAGNA!

On the way to the hospital, Michelle stopped by her church to drop off the 200 cookies that she had bought for their Christmas party for the homeless that she was helping to organize. And when one of co-chairs of the shindig, whom I shot a dirty look (“Hello???? Is your husband dying??”), asked her if she could also drop off the plastic cups, Michelle agreed to do that the following day.

I was dumbfounded. The entire weekend and after. By how a person, in the midst of such a heartbreaking catastrophe, could keep on giving. And believing. And loving.
And just like my senior year in college, when I thought I actually had something to give the homeless guys, I came away with a gift far more precious than any lasagna I could bake or soup I could drop off.

I saw the face of Christ. In Michelle. At one the saddest hours of her life.

By the time this post is published, Bob will most likely have passed on.

This will undoubtedly be the hardest Christmas for you, Michelle.

But please know that you have brought Christ and Christmas to me.

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  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Merle

    What a beautiful Advent message. It parallels one I was reading jusy minutes ago by Dorothy Day. Tnank you!@

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Jean

    I guess, I have begun to believe, that maybe “God” is the torch that gets passed, on the days we are lucky enough to have enough foresight to quit thinking only of ourselves. And the ability to quit thinking only of ourselves, is a place we only inhabit when we are at peace with ourselves.

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  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Rita

    What a beautiful story. My condolences to Michelle, your angel friend….

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Sam Gyura

    Incredibly beautiful xx

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment kathy

    WE have a friend fighting for her life in ICU after being hit by a car.. an idea for what to give families.. gift certificates to the cafeteria at the hosp.. as I remember Therese saying something to the affect… I believe because my life depends on it”…

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Sue

    And of course you leave us asking for “the rest of the story” ….. an update on Michelle ….?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment steve

    Wonderful piece, and I admit part of why I’m saying that is “selfish” … I have been *so much* like you here, in my anger at God, and that’s *throughout* a pastorate … “What about X, but what about X, but what about X?” People, situations, tragedies and traumas, senseless accidents, pointless cruelties.

    I’m sure it’s an “age thing” with me, but lately I have found myself *slowly* drifting away from that … vacillating, to be sure … a kind of spiritual Bipolar situation … but consistently, if still too faintly thus far, there seems to be emerging in my soul something like what is in Michelle (and it’s NOT my own doing) … an awareness that the Presences has outweighed the absences by far … the sense of an Answer (a Person, not “words”) outweighed the wretched questions, by far … and I seem to be reaching that where one simply “relaxes into grace,” unanswered questions and demands and curses and all … and holds on, and lets oneself be held onto as well. I dunno … it’s a transition for sure … just too early to know what it all means. People like Michelle, and of course you, certainly keep me on that path.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Dee

    My heart goes out to Michelle and pray for her. Sometimes I wonder if people like Michelle find it less painful to keep giving of themselves rather than to blatently acknowledge what is right in front of us. People deal with pain in so many different ways and for right now, if this is what helps her, then she must find some peace in it.

    Thank you again for sharing your experience with her as it touched my heart so deeply and showed me how beautiful your heart is.

    You are so right that we all need to have different experiences to see that God is there for us, even when we feel he may not be.

    Blessings to All

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