Advent was tough financially, and because it was tough financially, it was a huge distraction spiritually. I tried to put my focus into helping someone who had it a little harder than we do--which was a good thought, but just a singular thought. Meaning, other than thinking of how nice it would be to help someone else in need, that was the only thought I had. I didn't' think the thoughts about the money part.
So, I basically had two families to support for Christmas.
It created a lot of stress.
Somehow, we got through it. Somehow, we managed to pull it off. (This was with some help from a few other people and lots and lots of prayer for help.) I was glad to have helped the family but I also realized that someone else probably could have helped them a lot more. It actually was a selfish decision to help them; I was looking for a warm fuzzy feeling. Well, anyway, I meant well and God knew I meant well, and He knew what I was searching for. But it made things really hard and put a lot of stress between Dennis and me because Dennis was already struggling with trying to pay the bills that couldn't get paid.
Christmas Eve, I went to Mass. I sadly told Jesus that my plans had failed. I didn't have the warm fuzzy feeling I had been looking for; I didn't have any new insights about Christmas. I felt further away from God more than ever. I felt smothered with the pressures of a worldly Christmas and depressed that we hadn't brought our kids up knowing a more simpler Christmas. I had nothing in my heart , it was just a heavy emptiness. And then I knew that I could at least offer the Baby Jesus that.
"Jesus, I can give You the only thing I have. I give you my open heart."
Open heart? But yes, n open heart is good. Offering Him my heart was good but offering an open heart was better. That wasn't what I meant to pray, but I would take it.
And then I noticed Fr.Gregory walking up and down the aisles of the church, scanning the pews. He seemed to be looking for someone. He then went to Dennis, whispered something, and then left. Dennis turned to me and said, "Come on. We've been picked to carry up the Baby Jesus."
Another family had been picked--I know this because Fr.Gregory had told me so a few days before. For some reason, they didn't show. And so it was us that got to bring up the Baby Jesus.
Well, I didn't take this as a special sign or anything--I know that God wouldn't arrange for that family to not show up. But being picked second is just as good as being first. Being picked at all is a blessing. And being picked to carry up Jesus in a special way after such a dark Advent felt like a special gift from God.
It was Lucy who carried up the Baby Jesus and I was instructed to "swaddle" the Baby Jesus in swaddling clothes. Can I just tell you how special this was, though I knew this was just a statue, to swaddle the Baby Jesus (in a somewhat sloppy way, since I was trying to hurry) and give Him my all, my open heart? To make this small act of love and to be chosen to do it? Only Jesus understood what a gift it was to do this for Him. It was what I had been searching for all Advent. A closeness with Him in a special way.
Later, during Father's homily, he was preaching on love. He stopped in the middle of it to pull out of a large whiteboard with a heart drawn on it. I thought of course, that it represented love. But then he erased the top part of the heart and made a big open crack through it. What he said next made me stop cold.
"In order for God to heal us, we need an open heart to let Him in. And sometimes, in order to be let in, our hearts need to be broken" (or let Him work through an area of weakness or hurt.)
Wow! What can I say except that I felt that God couldn't be more clearer with His message to me on what I needed for this Christmas. An open heart.
I know that message was for everyone, and that we all are called to an open heart (and have been hurt in our lives as well, in some way or another). But that Christmas Eve night, I felt like He had His own message for me. Maybe for you too.
I was looking for Jesus all Advent, searching for some sort of fulfillment, some sort of peace. I didn't find it through worldly things, not even in others. I found Him in the desire of wanting to find Him. I found Him in the brokenness of my heart.
Such a simple thing, to lift up our open hearts.