Christmas in July: Lamb of God

I turned around slightly to take a peek at Mary. I didn’t want her to realize how concerned I was for her. Days we have been traveling and the baby is almost ready. Many women in Nazareth die in childbirth. I think of my poor brother. His wife seemed fine, but as she slept the night after bringing her baby into the world, she suddenly bled to death. The baby fought for a week, but ultimately he, too, died. My brother lost his wife and firstborn son days apart. I think of Mary and little Jesus. I know this is God’s plan, but I don’t understand how. At least the other women had mothers, sisters, and neighbors around them. They were not alone. They were not traveling. Even in the best of circumstances, like my brother’s family, this can go terribly wrong. I am afraid we are headed for a disaster and though God has faith in me, I am doubtful.

My gaze must have hung too long on my new wife. She picked up her head and our eyes met. She was beautiful, but she was never to be mine. Not in that way. But I know that is okay. It is what God wants, but she is still my wife.

“Joseph,” she whispered, her eyes were pleading, “Do not worry about me. There is nothing for us to be afraid of. Look at you, instead. Your poor feet, and your back. Why don’t we stop so you can rest. Would you like the donkey? I don’t mind walking a while.”

“No, Mary. Please, no. Don’t worry about me” I said as I tried to straighten my aching back. I would love nothing more than to rest here, even sleep, but it was too dangerous. We couldn’t stop. There were bandits along the roads. We were not near any village. When her time came, there needed to be women, kindly women that could help bring the baby into the world. As much as I hated for her to have to push on, it was best she move while she could rather than get stuck here where there was no one for us and the baby.

“But Joseph,” she pleaded, “your feet are bleeding from those sandals. Surely a rest would be good for you…” My intelligent, wonderful wife did have a point. My back was bad enough, but my feet could get us into a problem if I didn’t take care of them.

“Just for a moment,” I said as I eased off the edge of the road a bit with the donkey. I walked towards Mary and lifted her waist and slid her down safely. I don’t know how she did it, after hours on the donkey and so pregnant with Jesus, but she gracefully edged towards the river, leading the donkey with her.

I removed my sandals and staggered like a drunkard towards the water. I plopped down, a little too hard, and began washing my feet. The dirt and dried blood that soiled them slowly trickled away with the current, but the cuts and bruises remained. I stole another glance at Mary as she sang to the donkey.

“I’m okay Joseph” she said. I don’t know how she saw me looking. I looked back down at my feet. I examined my toe nail of my large right toe. I tapped the end with my finger.

I sucked in quickly as I grimaced. That nail would be gone by this time tomorrow.

“He he he….” Mary giggled, “You needed this break more than I did.”

“Maybe so.” I didn’t want her to know I was hurting. Me feet ached, my back was killing me. The sun gave me a headache. My lips were cracked from so little water. I felt the stiffness in my hands. Too many hours clutching the donkey’s lead left my wrists and fingers tight. I wanted to just lay down right there and sleep, but I knew giving in would make starting again nearly impossible. I wanted to rest five minutes, but I gave in and rested what must have been ten. I searched our things to fill our canteen. I made sure Mary had plenty to drink. I was ready to go, but as I went to hoist her onto the donkey she stopped me.

“Joseph,” she whispered, “God chose you for a reason. We will be okay. All of us,” she said, rubbing her belly, “But that doesn’t mean you can forget to care for yourself.” She held tension in her face as she looked at me.

“I’ve drank, I’ve washed my feet and rested by back. I’m okay.” I tried to sound confident.

“I know you’re not going to like it, but just for a little bit, put our things on the donkey. I can walk. In fact, I would kind of enjoy it.”

“….But Mary?”

“I’m okay.” She said, “Really.” She touched my arm and nodded then placed my satchel on the donkey’s back. Taking the rope, she looked at the donkey and made a kissing noise with her lips as she eased him forward.

“I will do that” I said, taking the rope, “Mary didn’t argue with that at all.” Perhaps she was right. She had been on the donkey for days now and while she was pregnant, she wasn’t technically ill. There was no reason she couldn’t walk and it would help my back to not have to carry anything.

We trudged onward. Hours passed. Occasionally we would pause to listen to a bird call. Mary would point out clouds that looked like animals. Different rocks adorned the trail and I would tell her how I made them into tools for my carpentry. Mostly, however, our hours were passed in silence. We were comfortable together and didn’t need to talk to communicate. This was God’s baby, not mine, but I did love Mary, in a pure and beautiful way and I did cherish this time with her. Away from the stares and gossip of Nazareth we could just be. There were no questions or accusations. We were just a man and his wife traveling. It seemed nothing but ordinary, but that was far from the truth.

“ooh” Mary said, stopping in her tracks. She wrapped her arms around her belly.

“What’s wrong?” I questioned, scared of all possible answers but desperate for the truth.

“I think we’re okay, but Jesus is coming soon.” Mary answered.

“How soon?” I said. Mary must have heard the fear in my voice.

“Not quite yet….we have time I think….How far since that last sign”. I think it said Bethlehem 8 miles. That was about 40 minutes ago.”

“Let’s get there tonight!”

“Mary, are you sure?”

“Yes, positive. We can do it. We need to do it.”

“Okay” I told her, let’s get you up….”

“No, I can’t get on the donkey now. I must walk. I just have to. I can’t explain it.”

I had not idea what to say. So I just nodded. Mary began moving forward and I followed. There was more urgency in her steps now. She no longer paused to hear the birds call. I didn’t waste my breath telling her about my work or pointing out things in the landscape. I quietly reminded myself that this was what God had wanted. He asked Mary. She said ‘yes’. His angel told me not to be afraid, but I was. I needed to be strong for her, but she was the strong one. I was powerless. My wife was having the child of God. There was no one around us. It was looking like I was going to deliver a baby, and not just any baby, but God’s baby. I was going to do it alone. I knew nothing about this. My father taught me how to safely cut wood. I knew how to hammer nails. I could construct tall structures and make uneven surfaces flat. I could create a house from nothing, but I was never told anything about how to deliver a baby. Nothing. And poor Mary, she had never given birth before. She was new to this herself, really. There was Elizabeth and John, just months ago, but I don’t know if that was enough. We were in for far more than we could handle. I tried to just put my trust in God, but it wasn’t always easy.

We worked our way up and down the hills along the rocky path. My feet no longer bothered me. I was reinvigorated. It was more fear than excitement, I must admit, but I was feeling a bit better. I was more alert and aware. I had to be.

“Look” Mary pointed at a sign.

“Bethlehem three miles”

“I can make that!” She said, proudly.

“You can?” I questioned.

“I can!” She sounded confident.

“You ca….wait, what is it?” I asked as her face changed suddenly, melting away her confidence.

I looked at Mary’s legs and the ground where she stood. My eye’s widened. I was terrified.

“It’s okay. Joseph, it’s okay. This is what happens. “It just means the baby is that much closer. Don’t be afraid. I remember from Elizabeth. There is still time, but we have to hurry.”

I stared at the wet ground. I didn’t know what to do. Mary inched towards me.

“Joseph, we can do this.” She said as she took my hand. I could tell by her voice that she too was afraid, but together we moved forward. As if he knew the situation, our stubborn donkey suddenly complied with everything we asked. He seemed to know, better than us, what was going to happen and now he was cooperating like never before. We hurried the rest of the way into town. I looked at Mary. She was hungry, thirsty, in occasional pain, and she was tired. We needed to find a place for Jesus to come.

“Mary, why don’t you sit here?” I motioned to a large stone on the edge of the street. “I can check on some places to stay. I won’t leave your sight.” She nodded as she took a deep breath, glancing at the houses that lined the busy street.

The sun was setting as I made my way from one door to the next. No one wanted visitors. All houses were full which was unusual for Hebrews. We were supposed to welcome strangers, but this was the census. I found an inn, but even the owners told me they were full. I looked at Mary down the street. She was watching me, but she didn’t know what the owners told me. I hated to disappoint her, but I didn’t know what else to do but go back to her and explain.

“I know Joseph. It will be okay. God has a plan.” she told me as I approached. I looked at my wife. I was still afraid, but a bit of her calm washed over me. She was right. God’s angel told me not to be afraid to take Mary as my wife. This child was God’s son. Surely whatever happened was as He planned it. Still, I was afraid. I scratched my head, peering down at my wife. She was so strong. I tried to remind myself it was not just her and I. It was us as well as Jesus, the Son of God. I still didn’t quite understand what that meant, but it was certainly a good thing. God was very much with us.

“Help me up.” She smiled as she reached up to me with both hands like a little child does. I grabbed her and slowly raised her up.

“Let’s go!”

“Where?”

“I don’t…how about that direction” She pointed to the mountains where the sun was rapidly setting just behind them.”

I put my hand on her shoulder, trying to let her know she was not alone. I pulled the donkey along with my other hand. We creeped towards the end of the street. We would keep looking. I caught a glimpse of Mary, holding her belly and breathing deeply. This baby was coming. I tried to think but couldn’t find a solution.

“Shalom!” a boy jumped out in front of me.

“Hi!” exclaimed another.

“Hello?” I answered, unsure where they came from or what they wanted. I wasn’t afraid of them. They couldn’t have been more than eight or ten years old, but this was not the time for two little boys to suddenly take interest in us. They were the last thing I needed right now. Surely Mary was uncomfortable with little boys around her right as the baby came.

“What do you need?” the first boy looked at us eagerly.

“Grandma sent us here. She said you needed us.” the second boy joined in.

“What….I’m sorry. I don’t understand.”

“I’m Benjamin” The first boy smiled as he shifted the lamb on his shoulders, and this is Isaac, my little brother.”

“We’re the same age Benjamin!”

“Technically, he’s right” Benjamin began to explain. I was born right at Pentacost. The next year, a week before passover, Isaac was born. It is springtime so he is nine now. Soon it will be summer and I will be ten, but for now, we are the same age, but we’re not twins.”

“That’s great boys,” I said, less than amused. They seemed like happy little kids, but I didn’t have the time for them right now. “Why don’t you run along back to your grandma.”

“We can’t.” Isaac began. “We thought since the flocks were so close we could come into town and see the family, but it’s so busy here. Grandma said we can’t stay with her like we always do, but she told us about you. She wanted us to help.”

“Help, with what? I don’t even know who your Grandma is. You really can’t help us today, anyway.” I said as I guided Mary forwards, not wanting to waste anymore time with these boys.”

“Wait!” Isaac ran forward and pushed a basket in my arms. “Grandma said you looked hungry. She said that even though she has paying customers they won’t know the difference if she gives a little food to you. Grandpa told you no, but Grandma is in charge and she didn’t like what he did.”

“He he” Benjamin giggled. It was clear that Grandma was definitely in charge and the boys seemed to find that hilarious.

I peeked in the basket: baked fish, olives, figs, warm bread, and even a bit of cheese filled the basket. This was more food than we had eaten in days.

“Boys, thank you very much, but I can’t take this”

“Yes you can!” They both smiled. Grandma told us we had to give it to you and you had to take it no matter what.

“Yup!” Isaac giggled.

“She said we better not dare take any money from you, even if you offered.” Benjamin added.

“That’s very generous of you boys. Thank you so much.” Mary said. I think she was between contractions, based on the relative ease she had speaking and standing.

I didn’t know what to say or do. I felt I should give these two small boys money, but they seemed adamant that none was warranted. I wanted to show them kindness, but also felt that Mary needed privacy.

“Well boys, we need to go. My wife is about to have a baby and we need to find a place. Thank you so much for the food.” We began walking away, but suddenly I heard Isaac’s voice.

“Wait, Mister! I forgot! Here’s some wine, too!” Mary and I turned to see the little boy scramble towards us. In his belt were some wineskins. He pulled them off and pushed them into Mary’s hands.”

“I don’t think she can….” I started as Mary began to hush me. It amazed me how even in this state, she was calm and even joyous at these little boys. Quietly I took the skins from her and added them to the pack on the donkey’s back.

“Okay, bye!” The boys said, skipping off as quickly as they arrived. I thought that was the last of them.

We pressed onward, into the field. It was nearly dark when we sat down in the field.

“Joseph, I think this baby is coming in the pasture.” Mary said, more worried than she sounded all night.

“It’s okay, we’ll make it work” I told her, trying to convince myself. Mary looked into my eyes. She was scared now, I could tell. I felt like such a failure. There was nothing I could do for her. She lowered her eyes. They were fixed on something, but I didn’t know what.

“Mary, what is it?” I was alarmed. Perhaps burglars were coming. We had nothing but the animal and a little bit of food, but she was so vulnerable. Mary and Jesus were such an easy target to anyone up to mischief.

“It’s them! Hallelujah! It’s them!”

“Who, Mary? Who is it?”

“We’re back!” the boys shrieked. Before Mary could answer I felt a wave of relief that it was only our little friends, not bandits. Though relieved, the last thing I needed right now were two little boys on top of my laboring wife and a stubborn old donkey.

“Benjamin, Isaac” I pleaded, “You are great boys, but Mary needs privacy to have this baby and I can’t have you interrupting us. I really appreciate the food, but I need you to leave us alone.”

“I know. That’s what the man told us you would say, but he said to stay with you anyway.”

“What man? Your Grandpa?” I questioned.

“He came in the field. He said his name was Gabriel. He said God sent him.” Isaac reported, very confident in his answer.

I scrunched my brow, but Mary looked at me calmly.

“Joseph, God sent them. They are going to be with us tonight. We need them”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, but my wife had a point. I looked at the two small boys. This time the lamb rested on Isaac’s shoulders. He supported it with one hand and held a torch in the other. Across his back was a bag full of things. What things – I couldn’t begin go guess. Then I looked at Benjamin, scarcely any older. Just an inch or two taller, he held a large jar full of water. He too had a pack on his back, full of an unknown number of things.

Gabriel told us to go towards the grove over there and we would find a place. At this point, I was so exhausted. I couldn’t argue with them. Mary seemed to have faith in them, and something about the name Gabriel just seemed providential. Quickly and quietly the four of us headed forward. I took the jug of water and torch from the boys. Our donkey followed without us leading him. Each boy grabbed one of Mary’s arms and we headed with haste to the grove a few hundred yards off. As we got closer, I saw it. A stable. There was fresh hay and a pit for a fire. There were some cows and oxen just outside of it. Chickens nestled in some hay on the ground nearby. It was full of life, but it was clean and private. It was not much, but it was the best I had seen all day.

“I feel another one!” Mary said as we were just paces from the stable.”

“It’s going to be okay, lady” Isaac said, “Before I could open my mouth.”

“Yup! Joseph here was number eleven for us.” Benjamin chimed in.

“Me and Joseph were your eleventh parents?” Mary said through her breaths. She was confused but also intrigued.

“No. She’s Joseph” Benjamin pointed to the lamb.

“She?” I said, a bit incredulous.

“That’a just what we do. We call all of them by Jacob’s son’s. The next one will be Benjamin, like me. It could be a boy or a girl. It doesn’t matter. That’s just how we remember how many we’ve delivered”

“You’ve delivered eleven lambs?” I asked, a bit startled.

“Oh, no! way more than that! Joseph is eleven for this spring. We have ten or fifteen every spring! Joseph was just our new baby yesterday! She’s a girl, but we still just call her Joseph” The boys giggled at their silly cleverness.

“We’re shepherds. We stay out all year and watch the sheep and help them have their babies.”

“Sure do!” Both boys nodded exuberantly.

A lamb must be very different than a little boy, especially God’s son, but somehow that actually made me feel a little better. I had never done this before for an animal or person. Maybe these two little boys could do more for me than I thought. As I settled Mary onto the hay, the boys quickly set up the place, emptying their packs with cloths, and empty bowls. One boy even had a jar of olive oil and another of honey. I didn’t understand why it was with this and not their basket of food, but I didn’t question. Isaac collected some wood outside the stable. The grove had plenty of branches and he started a small fire in the pit. Mary held onto the little lamb. For some reason the fuzzy baby comforted her as she had contractions. At the time passed, I was amazed at the stable’s transformation. How could two little boys do this? I didn’t understand, but I really had no time to think about it.

“Isaac!” Benjamin quickly called. “Don’t do that!”

“Why? She needs to be checked” I turned to look at the boy who was lifting my wife’s robes. My jaw dropped. I started to get angry.

“Joseph, it’s okay” Mary whispered. “They are boys trying to help.”

I realized this was not indecency. Men never do this, but tonight was not an ordinary night. Jesus was not an ordinary baby. Rules were going to be broken.

Benjamin walked over to the three of us and looked at Mary in the eye.

“Miss Lady….”

“Mary” I interruped softly.

“Mary,” Benjamin repeated, “We need to look at you and feel you. I don’t want to scare your or hurt you, but I don’t think I can get my Grandma or my any of my aunts. My mommy died with Isaac, so she can’t come, either.” I swallowed, trying not to think about Mary dying as these poor boys’ mother did. “We do this all the time, but with animals, not people. Is it okay if me and my brother and Joseph the man, not Joseph the lamb, to look at you and touch you.”

Mary bit her lip and nodded. I could tell this was very uncomfortable for her, but she knew it was what needed to happen. The boys lifted up her robes and looked at my wife. My poor wife. I tried to look away, but I needed to see, too. Between her legs on the hay was some blood. I was horrified.

“No, no, no” Isaac looked at me, “That’s okay. That’s normal. It’s not a lot. Come here, let”s get this water” we crawled a few feet away to the fire where clay pots sat nearby warming water. I watched as the boy got some rags and wet them. I did the same and we each began cleaning my wife from the waste to the toes.

Mary started panting. I could tell another contraction was coming. Benjamin whispered to her so quietly I couldn’t hear, but then he put his hands on her stomach and felt the muscles. I never thought, in all this time, to feel that. I was amazed and realized how foolish I was for not wanting these two boys with me.

“Go over there” Isaac whispered. “Go on, he waved me forward”. I crawled next to her and held her hand.

“Joseph…he’s almost here. Jesus is almost here!” I wrapped my arm around her shoulder and kissed her head. My beautiful wife. I couldn’t have her the way other men did, but I still loved her. She was pure and amazing. I don’t know how she had this strength, but I wanted nothing more than to help her and support her. She deserved so much more than this little barn. But then again, these boys were doing far better than what I have heard of in some childbirths, so perhaps this was the best.

“Mary, why don’t you eat?” I nudged. She needed her strength. We had barely eaten in days and now was not the time for fasting. I pushed the basket closer to her and she ripped a piece of bread off. Before she began to nibble, she quietly brought the bread to her face, smiled and closer her eyes. She was praising the lord and thanking him for this gift. Then, she took the bread and began to nibble

“I’ll heat those” Isaac said as he speared the fish on a sharpened stick he produced from somewhere in his sack. He warmed the fish on the fire before giving them back to Mary. I was amazed how these young boys seemed to have thought of everything. If it were up to me, my poor wife would be laying in the dirt of a dark field, hungry, cold, and filthy, but these boys provided everything. How they did it was a mystery, but I didn’t question God. I just let it happen. Mary handed me some fish and bread. I didn’t know if I should, but I realized there was plenty and I was hungry. I quietly prayed to God. I asked him bless my food, protect my wife and his son, Jesus, and I thanked him for Benjamin and Isaac.

A contraction came again. They must have been getting stronger because Mary put up more of a fight with them. She squeezed my hand and I just watched her. I didn’t know what to say.

“What are you doing?” I asked Benjamin as he pushed all across my wife’s belly.

“Oh, he’s just feeling for the head. It should be at the bottom. I came butt first. That’s why mama died.” Isaac answered.

“Shh, Isaac” Benjamin warned. None of us wanted to think about Mary having a problem like that.

“It’s okay. Feel it, Joseph” the boy said, grabbing my hand and placing it low on my wife’s belly. I felt a hard, rounded object, similar to a rock. “That’s the head. Grandma always feels for a head on Rachel and Hannah when their time gets close. That’s how I know.”

I took his word for it. He sure did know a lot for a boy that lived out in the fields.

“You should check between her legs.” Isaac chirped as he pulled my wife’s robes back. All sense of decency was gone. I looked at Benjamin.

“Better you than us….here, clean your hand with some wine and put it in and feel the head to see how close the baby is.”

I couldn’t believe what I was doing. I looked at Mary.

“Joseph, it’s okay. They know what they are doing. I did it for Elizabeth, it’s okay.”

I looked at my virgin wife and then washed my hands with wine as the boys said. I placed my hand inside her and felt the head. It felt close and it did feel like a head. For the first time, I was confident that the boys were right and there was indeed a head first. That was great news. I pulled my hand out and looked at, covered in mess. I tried to hide my disgust. Isaac got a wet cloth and washed away the mess with warm water.

“Why not the wine?” I asked thinking it would clean it more.

“We only have so much. She can’t hurt us, but we could hurt her or the baby so we use that for them, but not to clean ourselves up.” I guess that made sense.

Another contraction came and Mary just didn’t feel comfortable anymore. Not holding the lamb or squeezing my hand could ease it. She turned over and laid her elbows and knees on the tough ground. Her bare bottom was exposed for all of us to see.

“Mary….” I hesitated.

“I know Joseph, but honestly, it doesn’t matter. It’s just the four of us here. There’s no surprises. I am done with it.”

“Okay” I stammered, horrified it had come to this.

“Actually, it gets kind of messy. Why don’t we take your robes off and we’ll cover you with some cloths.” Benjamin suggested.

I was horrified as my wife stripped all her clothes, but the boys covered her with lots of cloths they pulled out of their sacks. I guess it was better to not get her robes covered in the baby’s waters.

She closed her mouth in order not to scream as she felt another contraction. As it eased, she told us her back felt better. I had not idea that in all of this, it could be her back that bothered her, but then again, what did I know about birthing babies?

After a few more contractions Mary got back on her bottom and rested her back against the hay bale. The boys carefully rearranged the cloth to cover her up to keep her as decently as possible. They didn’t stare or laugh. I don’t know if they were just on their best behavior or too young to fully grasp the strangeness of the situation.

Isaac peeked under the wool cloth between my wife’s legs.

“It’s bulging!” he shrieked with excitement. “I bet it’s a girl. We can name her Benjamin!”

“Benjamin!” I laughed. It’s a boy and his name is Jesus. Your brother is great, but this baby is named Jesus.

“No, not for him, because it is baby number twelve!”

“Oh, yes, that’s right,” I murmured as I stole a glance at the little lamb they named Joseph. Mary held the lamb closely to her, stroking its nose gently.

“He’s here!” She said suddenly as she sat up a little. We saw the top of a head coming out between her legs.

“Ooh, Joseph, push her there!”

“What?” I looked at Isaac.

“So she doesn’t tear too much, hold her skin back as the head slides out.”

Were they serious? Now was not the time for a joke.

“Joseph! He’s here! Do something!”

I took a deep breath as I held my hands against Mary. The baby’s head came out. There was Jesus. I thought I was about to cry as I gently grasped the head.

“Come on Mary!” Chanted Isaac.

“You can do it, PUSH!” urged Benjamin

Quickly the baby came out the rest of the way as Mary let out a huge breath.

Isaac tapped the baby slightly and he began to cry. I looked at the little boy. He was beautiful. He was covered in a mess. His hands and feet were blue, and he cried like he was uncomfortable, but despite it all, he was beautiful. Mary had done it. She gave birth to the Son of God and God’s baby was beautiful.

Isaac came and brought me cloths dampened with warm water. He cleaned up Jesus while Benjamin talked to Mary still focused between her legs.

“What are you doing Benjamin?”

“There’s the sack thing. It comes out after. It needs to come out.”

“What?” I don’t know how they knew so much, but I guess lambs aren’t that much different than people.

“I don’t know how long it will take for a person, but it’s usually just a few minutes after” He said as we helped Mary. He gently asked her to push as I brought the baby to her. We sat there, the three of us. No longer a couple, but a family, nestled in a barn. The hay was wet and Mary was nearly naked. I was scared and confused, but it was all going to be okay, just as the angel said it would be when he told me to not be afraid to take her as my wife and raise this baby, the Son of God.

The boys pulled out the sack and took some water and cleaned up Mary. Benjamin secured the cord by Jesus a couple of times with a strip of leather and the boys took some shearers and cut the cord between the baby and the sack. My poor wife seemed to have torn a little, but they put some olive oil on her cuts, too. I didn’t want them to touch her, but Mary insisted that it was really okay. They were just boys and this was what was done. I felt better and relaxed a little. The boys tidied up the area as Mary nursed Jesus at her breast. A little while later, the applied some honey to her, because the boys kept claiming it helped her heal and would keep it from getting infected. I didn’t know what to say, but Mary seemed fine with it and I didn’t see how it could hurt.

After a while, I edged over a small manger for the baby. I could tell Mary could barely stay awake any longer.

“Wait, Joseph, here” Isaac said as he pulled some fleece and cloth out of his bag. He gently laid the fleece out over the scratchy hay as I swaddled the baby and placed him in his makeshift crib. I wrapped my arm around my wife and watched her drift to sleep. The boys also rested in the corner of the stable, a little away from us. I was not going to chase them off. Not after all they did. It amazed me that two small boys knew so much and had so many things. They even pointed us to this stable. How they did it, I don’t know.

I looked at the growing group. Hours ago it was just Mary and I. Benjamin and Isaac came along, and then of course there was Jesus. The five of us rested, but as they napped, I just thought of it all. How did we do this? Why Bethlehem? What does it mean Jesus is the Son of God? Why the Census, now, of all times? What happens now? Is the birth the worse of it for Mary? Are we safe here for at least a few days? How do I raise the son of God? Questions swirled in my head. I felt more at peace than I had all day, but I still couldn’t feel totally at ease.

The fire died down a little and the owls hooted in the distance. I looked at Mary and Jesus. Even the donkey and little lamb, nestled against Mary’s legs, were still. I quietly got up and collected a little more wood for our fire. As I added it to the pit, I saw some men approaching in the distance. My heart sank. What could this be? I was terrified.

“Boys, Boys” I whispered, “Get up!” The groggy boys looked at me. They were reluctant, but they did as I asked with little complaint.

“What’s wrong?” Isaac yawned.

“There are people coming.” I pointed as I walked towards Mary and rubbed her shoulder, rousing her from her nap. “Wake up, sweetheart”

Even the lamb stirred as I picked up Jesus from his manger and cradled him in my arms. I didn’t know what to do.

“It’s okay”, Benjamin muttered. “It’s just the other shepherds. I guess they are looking for us.” The boys scrambled to put a few items into a sack. “You should keep the rest,” Isaac said as he looked at the bowls of water and extra cloths. Even the leftover bread remained here for us. It was as if they wanted to make sure we had everything possible. The men got closer and before the boys were done, they came to our little stable.

“Boaz!” Isaac shouted with joy, waking the baby.

“Hey there, Buddy!” a man about my age said to Isaac. “Looks like you were busy tonight.” He said smiling at the baby.

“Yup! number twelve this season!”

“Hahaha!” He chuckled. “I don’t know about that, buddy!” This is no lamb, this is a child of God.

“What do you mean?” Benjamin questioned, furrowing his brow.

“Well….” Boaz began, “It’s amazing really. We were just out in the fields and then suddenly there was a flash – it was an angel, an angel of God. He told us there was a baby lying in a manger. This baby here. He said this baby came to save all the people. This child,” Boaz gestured toward Jesus, “Is Christ the Lord.”

“Whoa!” the boys said in unison. The other shepherds nodded and smiled as they crept closer.

“Come, come in” I said and I handed the baby to Mary. I thanked the Lord she was covered decently, but the boys were one step ahead of me, laying another cloth over her. The donkey stepped aside letting the men in the stable and even the little lamb seemed to take notice. The other oxen and cows that had laid outside the stable all evening seemed to watch us from outside as the shepherds came in. They admired the baby and softly spoke to him. Some closed their eyes in prayer and laid a hand on his head before letting another come up. One even laid prostrate as he looked at my foster son in awe.

Boaz looked at the boys.

“Well boys, you see that baby you helped deliver?” Boaz pointed at Jesus “He will deliver us. He is the lamb of God.”

Hole in the Head

When there is something unfavorable about to occur, people often say, “I need that like I need a hole in the head!” There seems to be very little worse than having a hole in your head with the small exception of getting your entire head cut off. So today I would like to speak about two people that are interrelated. One has a hole in the head. The other had his head cut off.

If you didn’t already guess, well that person with the hole in the head – That’s me! Seriously, I am missing a piece of my brain and today is my “Hole in the Head Day” where I celebrate having this little hole in my brain. While it was tragic to have a brain tumor in my cerebellum removed 11 years ago today, I am in great health now and my oncologist told me three years ago “it’s never coming back.” Though the pain of surgery, fear of my future, and isolation from my peers were painful for a teenager going through that, I can now celebrate my life.

While people do not want a hole in their head, and I wouldn’t do it just for fun, it actually is not so bad. Thanks to the hole in my head I have met lots of new people in the hospitals both patients and healthcare workers. There have been some interesting and wonderful people. Without these experiences maybe I would never have gone to nursing school. I have learned to be more courageous because when facing something you don’t want to face and there is no way out, you learn how to get through, even when it’s not easy. I learned to trust in God. I have seen lots of hardships in my life, but God has always seen me through. I have a lot more trust in Him now that I have a hole in my head. There are many blessings I have from my hole in the head – too many to name, but I will name just one more – John the Baptist.

Now, a moment ago I mentioned that getting your head chopped off would be even worse than getting part of it removed – well, John the Baptist is our guy. He was decapitated for his love of Christ. He baptized with water so Jesus could Baptize us with the Holy Spirit and give us new life. John preached repentance so Jesus could give us mercy. When he got too public, he was imprisoned and eventually executed, but as he said, he had to decrease so Jesus could increase.

As we celebrate the Feast of John the Baptist’s nativity today, I remember that message. I must also try to decrease so Jesus can increase. Like John, I was born in a way today, June 24. Mine with brain surgery removing my tumor, him it was a true birth. My nice early January birthday always falls around the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord and we hear about John in the Gospel at mass on the Sunday closest to my birthday. I also live in the Diocese of Charleston where John the Baptist is the patron. The hospital where I had my brain surgery was just a short distance from the cathedral named after John. I cannot help and think that John is always rooting for me. He is a patron of mine, cheering me one. I didn’t lose my head, just a hole in it. I decreased (in a very literal way) and now perhaps Jesus can truly increase in a figurative way because he has worked good through me. All I can say is this, I have had a brain tumor. I know pain and suffering, but my life is better for it, not worse. God writes straight with crooked lines which is exactly what he did with my brain tumor. Rather than bemoan it, I celebrate my “Hole in the Head Day” and hope that by writing about it you may also think of ways God has made your life better despite the chaos, suffering and confusion. If you struggle to see it, ask John to help show you the way. He was born to lead us to Christ and I know from experience that he loves to help.

Anatomy of the Heart

As I studied for my pediatric nursing test today, much attention was focused on the heart. Its atria and ventricles, the valves, the vessels feeding it and transporting oxygenated blood away. I thought back to my days as a little kid when my mom enlightened me to the fact that the human heart is not shaped like a Conversation Heart candy given to children with Valentine’s Day cards from their classmates. While I usually thrived in knowing the truth; facts comforted me, that was a sad revelation for some reason. I felt this vital organ, used so often to symbolize love could not be less cute than the pumping, rosy center of each person’s body. It just had to be as darling, and the visceral twists of gushing blood was more gory than whimsical.

The more I thought about the heart today, the more I realized it actually is a bit like the heart we draw for kiddos. Anatomically, it does come to a bit of a point at the bottom of the ventricles. We call this the apex. While the top of the heart is called the base (paradoxically to some, but it is the “base” as that is where it is largest in circumference, not the bottom). If we look at a diagram of this lovely organ, we know the aorta and pulmonary valves are sort of in the top and center. If we imagine those gone for a second, and just look at the shape of where the atria would be, the two atria together would even sort of look like a heart we draw for children. Suddenly, years of disappointment seemed to reverse. The two hearts, anatomical and symbolically do resemble each other a bit.

While anatomy is one thing, physiology is another. When you take a course in Anatomy and Physiology you learn about not just the form of body parts but also their function. After a few moments of pondering the heart, I pulled out a sheet of paper and began to draw a heart which was accurate enough to display the function, though its form more closely resembled a heart belonging to cupid than a heart of a cardio-thoracic surgeon. With the top of my pencil I gently traced the path of blood. Though the superior vena cava blood will collect into the right atrium. It is only there a moment before it passes through the tricuspid valve into the right ventricle. The ventricles have the important job of jutting blood out of the heart, first to the lungs. So from here the blood passes through the pulmonary valve and into the pulmonary artery. This is a unique artery. Most people like to think of arteries as the vessels that carry oxygenated blood, but this is not entirely correct. Instead we should think of arteries as sending blood away from the heart. It is true most arteries do contain oxygenated blood, but this pulmonary artery leaves the heart for the short, yet vital pass through the lungs. Here, the blood is oxygenated and goes through the oxygenated pulmonary veins (again contrary to the norm) and back into the heart making the first stop in the left atrium that receives the now-oxygenated blood. Through the mitral valve it goes, and into the right ventricle. With a big squeeze (along with the cooperation of the aortic valve), the ventricle pushes this oxygenated blood to the body. The blood will circle the body and return and repeat the process all over again.

As I thought about this process, I thought of yet another quandary, only now it was not so much about the heart form as the symbolism. Why do we always say things like “when your heart tells you….” or “that relationship was full of such heartache” or “follow your heart, not your mind”. It always seemed to me that the brain did all the processing and decision making and the heart was just a squeezing metronome. Suddenly, I was hit with another revelation. If we think about our blood as love and our souls as the heart than all the analogies are true! As Christian people we know that the cross one which Jesus was nailed caused him to stretch out his arms. He welcomed Dismas into paradise that day; Jesus received him with love and open arms (pun or cliche? – you decide). At the same time, Jesus sent out love. He gave his life for all of us. He could not hold it all in, but gave it away. He took all of our sins, and he cast back his mercy. He gave everything! He lost everything! That seems impossible, but with God nothing is impossible, and to help us understand it a little better, he gave us our hearts. It takes on all the blood and it sends it all away – simultaneously. Just as Jesus had to contract and relax his arms and legs to breathe on his cross, the heart must contract and relax to give and take blood from the body and lungs. Jesus on the cross is like a heart, and it is no mistake that we celebrate the sacred heart of Jesus which is even depicted with a thorny crown like our savior on the cross.

This vital organ really does symbolize love. Jesus told us, “No one has greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13. He told us himself, he loves us – Agape love, the unconditional love of God. That is how he feels for us. But, we are more than just slaves or servants; he calls us friends. Philia is the type of love we feel for our friends. Jesus feels this way for us, too. What about affection love, or Storge? – the love we feel for our children and pets. Well, Jesus is the creator of the universe. He is one of three persons in our God. Another person is the Father. We are his children. The Father, and therefore also Jesus, feels this affection for his children. There is one last love, Eros, or romantic love. This one may be trickier to understand, but I believe it too is here, if you look deep enough. At the last supper, when Jesus’s passion commenced, he told us to take the bread and eat it. It was his body that he gave for us. He ordered us to do this in memory of him, as we do at every mass. This sacrifice was made on the cross the following day. Jesus gave his whole body to us. While we do not have sexual relations with Jesus, this is how Eros is expressed through him, at least in my opinion (I am no scholar). Jesus gave us his body. There are really only two ways you give your body to another. The first is like Jesus, through sacrificing it. The second is through sexual relations. I personally think both of these represent Eros. Jesus, pumping his love to and from us on the cross, that was love. All the love you can have in the world was there that Friday. Pumping his legs to breathe, to keep blood circulating in his dying body, Jesus resembled a beating heart. He gave us strength like the heart gives oxygen and he took on sins like the heart takes on deoxygenated blood. By being like a heart, Jesus showed us love.

Jesus is a heart. We each have a heart, and it is our soul. We need to love one another, take the bad and give back what is good. Jesus asks us to love our enemies, that is taking deoxygenated blood. He asks us to pray for those that persecute us, that is sending out oxygenated blood. He asks us to be like the sheep and not the goats. To do this, we do good and follow the commands of his father. Our souls are meant to love and be loved, just like Jesus. That is why they are represented with a heart and we should try to emulate Jesus’s Sacred Heart.

Perhaps

In my personal life I try hard to keep myself healthy and well. I have struggled with this on and off in my life due to different things, but currently I am in a very good place. While some of this is just genetics and good luck as to not be exposed to toxins or accidents, other aspects are up to me. A few years ago I looked into the 8 pillars of wellness and one of the pillars is “spiritual”. Furthermore, I do a lot of “Spiritual Reading.” These books and articles relate to prayer, lives of the saints, church history, etc. Let’s also not forget formalized Spirituality: The mass, reading the bible, the rosary, etc. But through all of this, it can still be difficult to define what Spirituality is and what it is not. While I cannot fully understand, I think I have a better idea than I used to. Spirituality is not a tangible thing, but instead a way to relate to God.

Across the ages, there are all sorts of ways people have related to God and some of these have formed different types of orders with rules that serve as guidelines as to how to go about our relationship with God. I recently have been learning more about Blessed Hanna Chrzanowska, RN. She is the first lay nurse to be beatified. This brave nurse was a Benedictine Oblate, and she wrote an examination of conscience just for nurses. As I become an RN, I intend to review this document frequently to ensure I work in a way as desired by God. Perhaps I am a Benedictine. When I was in college every Thursday afternoon the Daughters of St. Paul invited the students for tea. They told us about how they related to God through reading. While “Spirituali-Tea” ended around the time the store closed for the evening, I would sometimes return on a Saturday and purchase a book. It was at this time in my life where I developed my habit of spiritual reading. Perhaps I am a Paulinist. When I think back to my much younger days, I was surrounded by images and stories of St. Francis. My first parish and school were Franciscan and the love of nature and seeking joy in the world emanated from my environment. I have a deep respect for St. Francis who is really the first saint I ever came to know. Perhaps I am a Franciscan. A couple years ago I learned more about the Dominicans. I love how the order tries to evangelize others by preaching. Like me, they love the rosary. Catherine of Siena was the patron given to me by my parish priest when I was baptized. She was a Dominican Tertiary. Perhaps I am a Dominican. When I was a young child, Mother Teresa was always on television. My dad had a great respect for her the kindly nun and called her a “living saint”. A few years ago I read “Come Be My Light” and gained even more respect for her. Like Mother Teresa, I hope to see Jesus in the face of every patient. Perhaps I am a Missionary of Charity. Four of five years ago my priest recommended I go on a retreat. I went to a Jesuit retreat house. I loved it so much I returned several times. I have been able to relate to God through imaginative prayer and see Him in everything. Perhaps I am a Jesuit. When I was confirmed I chose St. Teresa of Avila. She and St. John of the Cross have been very inspirational to me since that time. I have tried to better contemplate the mysteries of God. Through their prose and poetry I have learned more about the way to God and perfection than I ever could have learned without their aid. I have a deep respect for the desert fathers of Mount Carmel and also for the Discalced Carmelites that brought the order back to its origins. Perhaps I am a Carmelite?

As you can see, all across your life there are different paths you may take. You may rely on one more heavily than another. One is not necessarily better than another but it may be better for a particular individual or a stage in a person’s life. They are not right or wrong – just different. Yet, all have overlapping elements and all lead to the same place.

Imagine for a moment that you take dozens of people from all around the world. You want all of them to meet in Bethlehem – let’s say at the birthplace of Jesus, the Church of the Nativity – the place where it all began. You give them a date and they all promise to be there. Perhaps one person is an American like me. Perhaps a simple plane ticket, a few plane changes and a bus on the other end are more than ample to safely reach the location in less than 24 hours. There may be flight delays or the Flight Attendant may inform you they are out of your choice of meal, but all in all, it’s pretty standard. Perhaps you are not like me. Perhaps you are North Korea. Perhaps this traveler must make illegal border crossings, hide from guards ready to kill, and plan to never return home. Perhaps you come from Africa. Here many are Christian but many are Muslim. There is peace in some places and war in others. Crossing the land may require a guide and a caravan may be in order. Perhaps jungle travel, desert travel, or even both are necessary. Perhaps you come from the Middle East. Much of this part of the world is dangerous for Christians. Even if you are not Muslim, you may wear a hijab for safety. Here you would possibly have to bribe others to get over the border, perhaps as you cross in truck of some sort. Perhaps yet another person comes all the way from India. Here you may face a lot of Muslims and Hindus. They may not like you, but you probably won’t be as unsafe as the middle east. You may get caught in the road for hours because the cows, thought to be holy, are blocking the only way out of your locale. Wherever you start your journey, you may need different modes of transportation, walking, biking, car, bus, train, plane, donkey, etc. You almost certainly will hear more than your own language. Perhaps you will experience weather unlike you have ever had in your homeland. Perhaps your travels will allow you to see the ocean for the first time, leave your country as you may have never done, or eat a new food. So many new and excited, and possibly dangerous things can happen. So many are unplanned, but the interesting journey and excellent destination are expected.

All across the world, the dozens of people called to the Holy Land would arrive. Some would be early and others would be late. Some that promised to be there may have been unable to make it. They could have had trouble crossing a border or their method of transportation could have broken down. All of the people, regardless of origin, experienced some similar elements. Everyone set out for a land that was not their own. Virtually everyone would have been exposed to other languages and ways of dress. Food and currency were likely different for different locales. Everyone would have had some vital supplies for their journey. Each had goals and expectations. Everyone had some surprises or “detours” along the way. The journeys were as unique as the individuals yet they had the same intended destination. Perhaps that is what spirituality is. Spirituality is the path you use to get closer to God. You can do similar things as others have done, but some things that others may rely heavily upon may just not work for you.

Perhaps you know a path that works for you. Use it if it helps you get closer to God. Perhaps you struggle to feel close to God. In that case, learn how others make the journey, surely your path has similar elements to some others out there. Don’t ignore paths already trodden if they seem valuable, but don’t be afraid to blaze a trail, too, if you need to pick and choose from different methods. The journey is important, but as long as you are on the correct journey to Jesus, the journey is secondary.

Perhaps………

Purpose

Two short texts recently came to my attention. One was incomplete – just a sign available for purchase at a craft store. It had a quote from Paul on it that said,

We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

The next was a fable from Anthony De Mello’s Song of the Bird. While it is from this Jesuit’s book, it is a Mullah Nasruddin story and therefore does not originate with De Mello, but with Turkish Muslims of the thirteenth century. The story goes:

Nasruddin became prime minister to the king. Once, while he wandered through the palace he saw a royal falcon.

Now Nasruddin had never seen this kind of pigeon before. So he got out a pair of scissors and trimmed the claws, the wings, and the beak of the falcon.

“Now you look like a decent bird,” he said. “Your keeper had evidently been neglecting you.”

De Mello, Anthony. 1982. The Royal Pigeon. The Song of the Bird. (p. 7). Lonavla, India. Image.

Both of these speak of purpose. While Paul’s first century quip outwardly tells us it is speaking of God’s purpose. The Nasruddin story hints at it rather than name its meaning outright. The pharisee apostle says we must do things as God intended and all will work out. The Mullah’s story comes from a different angle. Rather than instruct us to act favorably towards God and his plans for us, the fable shows us the ridiculousness of what happens when we become something we are not intended to be.

Paul’s short verse only tells us what to do while the Nasruddin story, with a little more time to develop, shows us how it can sometimes be others that cause us to conform to ways contrary to God. The poor falcon did not set out to be a pigeon, but through Nasruddin’s foolishness, he let it happen though God never intended for this mighty bird to become a simple pigeon.

Both of these short teachings hit home. Currently I am at a crossroads of my life. I am about to start a new career, move to a new city, and am in the beginnings of a new relationship. While these are things I want, they are also, (I think) in God’s plan for me. I am trying to discern if these things are according to His purpose or if I am letting the world shape me into what it wants.

If it were up to many I am in school with, I would be working locally upon graduation. I would sign a contract and not leave for at least three years. I would not allow myself to move far away and dating someone from far away would be off the table as well. There is pressure to clip my wings and live and work on the same turf I have been for a long time. As I look at the signs in my life, doing what the crowd does would make me a falcon with my wings clipped. I would be like the poor royal, “pigeon”, tamed and humiliated. Unable to spread my wings and fly, I would stay working in a way not according to God’s purpose. I would not be pursing a vocation of marriage and my push to get a higher education would likely be extinguished. Not soaring to new heights would hamper me. On the other hand, while I am supposed to be a falcon and not a pigeon, I still have questions. “How do I know I am headed in the right direction?” While it is clear God has designed me for a purpose that has exceeded what my locality can provide, am I headed in the right direction?

I know that nursing is the purpose for my career that God has given me. I have discerned this thoroughly and He has shown me this is correct. I would like to think that the other uncertainties in my life that I am pursuing (where I move and the relationship I am in) are also in God’s plan. He has a purpose for me, but I don’t always know what that is. The relationship dictates the city, which is similar to what I was thinking before the relationship. A new city, rather than staying local dictates a master’s degree. I am capable of such a degree, but if I clipped my wings, the good I could do with it would not be accomplished as I would likely never pursue such a degree if I stayed where my employer would not mandate me to futher my education. (Because I have a BS already, the time and money it is just better to go ahead with an MSN rather than a second bachelors in nursing).

As I move forward, according to Paul’s teaching, the good will shine through. If it is God’s will, it will work out just fine because all things that God wants to happen will happen. Even if we don’t cooperate, God can still use other people and resources for the goodness of humanity. He is the architect of the universe and we are just small parts in his Plan.

I love God and I have answered his call to be a nurse. It is therefore reasonable to assume I am on the right trajectory with other parts he has called me to. When in doubt, it is best to remember to not let the world make me a pigeon. I may not always know where to fly, but I will never fly at all if I let the world clip my wings and call me a pigeon.

We are all born to be falcons. You are a different falcon than me. I am a different falcon than the person next door. He is a different falcon than his best friend whose wife is yet another falcon. We are all supposed to falcons, soaring to great heights destined by God. We are not the same falcon though. We are also not pigeons. If you follow the purpose God wants for you, you will be a falcon.

Be a falcon as God wants. It is his purpose for you to be a falcon. It is your job to determine just how high and where to fly. Never, ever clip your wings and hang low to the ground with the pigeons, eating garbage dropped on the dirty streets. Do not poop all over your territory. Do not squabble and harass others by pecking relentlessly with no good purpose or outcome. Rise above! Soar! Be the falcon God has destined you to be!

Buy Yourself a Flower

With my summer semester in full swing, the coronavirus spiking in my state, riots everywhere, my dog’s declining health, and a million other things, it is easy to get stressed out. In response to my stress, I turned to a card I recieved at a 10K I ran on New Year’s Day. The card’s title: “101 Ways to Cope with Stress”. Each day I choose a few items to help ensure I am keeping myself less stressed. I have been doing this daily for about a week now. Before this point, I just thought the little card was something silly yet was unable to throw it out for some reason.

One such item on the card was “Buy Yourself a Flower”. That seemed simple enough. I thought it might be fun. I don’t receive flowers very often and I spend 8-10 hours a day at my kitchen table studying so it seems like an easy task that may liven up my home workstation. I marched into Publix, found the flowers, and looked around. There was no single flower available for purchase. Only bouquets. Some were $15 and some were more than that. I didn’t feel like it made sense to spend a huge sum on myself for no reason and I was told to buy “a” flower, not an entire bouquet. Suddenly, I saw them, an arrangement of bouquets for about $9 apiece. I looked at the beautiful bouquets. The flowers came with a vase unlike the more expensive arrangements. Not all arrangements included roses, an expensive flower, but many of these did. As I looked at these bouquets, I did notice they were not consistent. The types of flowers were different and the vase looked a bit like a little glass milk jug from the 1950s. One bouquet caught my eye. In it was a beautiful red rose, a happy sunflower, large hot pink carnations, small orangey carnations, a baby-girl-pink stargazer lily (plus two buds that were not yet open), and some vibrant purple flowers whose variety escape me. Nevertheless, all the flowers were beautiful in their short little vase. I then looked at the vase and saw a hot-air balloon floating through the clouds; on it were the words, “Hip Hip Hooray!” I looked again at the happy sunflower and romantic red rose and decided this was my bouquet. Pleased with myself I went home. I was happy with the flowers, the vase, and the smaller price tag. I also got more than “a flower”, but many.

As the days passed, the buds began to open revealing more flowers. Not only the lilies, but also more carnations I had missed. Color has been added to my kitchen table/desk. When my mom came to my house I showed her my flowers and told her that I spent less than $10 dollars on my little bouquet and what a good deal I thought it was compared to the other arrangements available. Looking at the bouquet, she also was impressed but also had an explanation as to why it was cheaper than I would have anticipated. They were rejects. These flowers, particularly the rose, were often meant to be long stem flowers. The sunflower as well was very short indeed. The carnations and Lilies had not bloomed in time to make it into the ‘better’ bouquets. These ‘late bloomers’ were rejects just like the rose with a broken stem. Perfectly beautiful flowers that were unsuitable for a wedding bouquet or funeral arrangement. Anniversary roses were taller, and those recovering from illness deserve something more elegant than a milk jug, don’t they?

How often in life do we feel like rejects? How often do we not make the cut? Are we ignored or tossed aside? – Maybe – but that does not mean all people will pass us by. Certainly God won’t. He looks at us, broken and late bloomers. He sees our potential. He sees a good future. He makes use for us all the same. Maybe we do not do what we thought we would do, but maybe what he has in mind was better.

While these flowers don’t have thoughts, for a moment I would like to personify them. While it would be great to decorate a bride’s bouquet, they would not be the main event – the bride would be. The bouquet would be loved and then thrown to another girl without another glance. After one evening, the flowers are forgotten, possibly even trashed as their new couple heads to a honeymoon. It is a glorious life, but a short one. Now, the flowers in my bouquet have a different fate. They may not have lots of admirers. They may not be looked at by everyone, but they are given more than a glance. Every single day, for hours, the beautiful little collection stands on my table. I water them and arrange them just so to see the bouquet at the nicest angle. I find great joy from them and they are all mine. I love them even though they are broken and not in full bloom. They are short and orange (who ever says “Hey, I am going to go get orange flowers?”). But they are mine. I would like to think God thinks of us that way.

God says, “I love her. She is broken, but that makes her all the more lovely. I am going to nurture her and tend to her every need. I will watch her every day. I will love her because she is mine and I find great happiness in her. She may not be perfect in the world’s eyes, but she is perfect to me. I will help her do great things she never dreamed were possible because I love her wholeheartedly. She may not be worthy, but I have redeemed her. She is mine, and I bought her because I love her.”

This is how I like to think God feels about all of us, just as I feel about the flowers.

Buy Yourself a Flower!!!!

BARTIMAEUS

Every year I try hard to focus my prayer in a new way. A few years ago I studied and prayed with all of the questions Jesus asks us in the gospels. There are 307 and one of which is “What do you want me to do for you?” This is the question Jesus asked Bartimaeus. This year I am praying with healing miracles and reading about saints that healed and how early Christianity is where the concept of the hospital was founded. Each month I meditate daily on a different healing miracle of Jesus’ and for June that is the healing of Bartimaeus.

This story has fascinated me since the beginning. Bartimaius can have two meanings because it is closely translated to Aramaic and also Greek. While he was a Jew and “Bar” means “son of”, there was significant Hellenistic ideas at this time and place and I think the double entendre is significant. Bartimaeus’ name means either, “Son of the honorable” or “Son of the unclean”.

While our modern, westernized lens looks at a blind person and usually comes to the assumption that the person has a medical issue, that was not the case in Jesus’ time. Bartimaeus would be considered “unclean” as this blindness (and result of being a beggar as well), meant the man was a sinner. An unclean person was denied access to the temple which essentially meant they were broken off from God. Yet, when we look at the other version of this name, it means “Son of the honorable”. Bartimaeus is also a child of God, the honorable. He has done no wrong to make him blind, he just is blind. It is neither him nor his parents that sinned. Jesus teaches us this of the sick and the lame. He very likely had a father that was a man of honor, maybe even prestige, in his town of Jericho, but it all came to nothing with his blindness and our inability to truly see. While Bartimaeus was the one that was blind, we all need to adjust our vision.

What I loved about this story so much years ago when I focused on the questions of Jesus was that Jesus comes and asks what he can do for us. I personally have a hard time asking God for things. I pray for others and I try to get closer to God, but seldom do I ask for things. When I do ask, they are for virtues, but almost never anything for myself. This story helps me remember that I can ask Jesus. While he already knows what I need and want; it is good to ask as it helps me recognize my dependence on Him. I need Jesus. I cannot do everything by myself. It is our duty to put our faith and trust in our creator and by asking him for things we get better at exercising our faith.

While I love to write, most of my days are spent with massive amounts of studying for nursing school. I have grown more accustomed to mnemonics and during a time of reflection today I thought up one for Bartimaeus. I would like to share it below, but perhaps it is a poem:

B Bartimaeus, the Blind Beggar, was

A Asked by Jesus, “What do you want me to do for you?”

R Restoration of sight was given immediately when he

T Told Jesus, “Master, I want to see.”

I Israel was the country of the

M Man granted a Miracle

A Amazing!” the people Announced because he was Able-bodied Again

E Excited, Elated, Exuberant was he because

U Unafraid, he listened when they said, “Take courage, get up, he is calling you.

S Salvation and Sight came to Jericho!

In God We Trust

If I pick up a penny, or a quarter, or a dollar bill – any American money will do, I will see the words “In God We Trust”. This country was founded on religious freedom. Our American ancestors sailed across the ocean for weeks to a new, undeveloped, strange land in order to start fresh and free of religious oppression. Now, hundreds of years later (and two and half centuries since the American Experiment became a reality), we are facing another dire situation.

I feel oppression, but not exactly from the goverment. There is the coronavirus which causes oppression. Stores closed for weeks, schools were closes and online courses ensued. Hospitals and nursing homes were closed to all visitors, even during the death of a loved one. Friends stopped seeing friends. Even public celebration of the Eucharist was halted in all 50 states. The coronavirus caused us to hunker down, take cover, and be afraid of everything. We were taught that Jesus is stronger than anything and he saves us and forgives us, but we were barred access to Him and we were barred from reconciliation. Our religious freedom was squashed. So much for our ancestors!

We look forward. George Floyd was brutally murdered. Police have been charged, as they should be. It will pretty much be an open and shut case since there are many witnesses and videos. However, people are rioting. I am all for peaceful protests. If you want to stand with a sign and vent your anger and frustrations, well your first amendment rights are exercised by doing just that, but I am against rioting. We are not supposed to run around, light fire to police cruisers, break windows of shops, and attack police. Injustice is not healed by another injustice and looting is not the answer. George Floyd’s life was unfairly taken from him, but that does not mean taking from another innocent business owner is right. Even though stealing a good is not as much as stealing a life, a wrong cannot right another wrong, it doesn’t justify it either. Also, capitalism is not the cause of George Floyd’s death, so why are they decrying it? Defunding the police is called everywhere, but that will worsen the issue. Protesting is not rioting. What we are seeing across the country has gone too far.

With so many people unemployed from the coronavirus and so many not looting and rioting all across the country, the national guard has been called in. Police are injured as are some innocent civilians. The election is quickly approaching and that brings more fear. What will the people decide? What will the newly appointed politicians: local, state, and federal do in response to these threats? Even in the best case scenario, our future is scary.

What do we do?

“In God We Trust”. That’s what we have to do – Trust God.

Once, after seeing an old colleague he asked me how I was. I told him how my dad had died a few days before and my mom had just gone into remission from her cancer. A week before my mom was diagnosed with cancer, I started nursing school and made the decision to quit my well-paying career and waitress just for enough money for school. With everything hanging in the balance and caring for both parents, my mom asked me to quit to take better care of her. I quit for what was going to be a couple of months until her chemo and surgery were over. As soon as that happened, my dad died. Two weeks after his funeral the lockdown started. My colleague asked me, “What did you learn from all of this?” I was confused by his question and thought a moment and I said to him. “Trust God” No matter how dark it got, I explained, I have to just put my faith and trust in God and know He will see me through.

I have faced dark times in my life, but never before in my lifetime has the state of the country looked so bleak as it does now. What can we do with all of this? “In God We Trust.” It says so right on the money and that is what we need to do. Trust God in all things, even with the country the way it is. We have to trust because it is too much for any one person to completely control or fix. While we all can make a difference, only all of us together acting with the aid of the Holy Spirit can truly come together for good.

Alone, we can’t fix it all, but if we trust in God and do our part as he wills us to do, then maybe we all have a real chance.

Turn! Turn! Turn!

I was writing in my journal today, and as usual, my patience was wearing thin. Suddenly, I thought of the Byrds’ song “Turn! Turn! Turn!” which is essentially the following bible quote.

There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. A time to give birth, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them; a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces. A time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away. A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to be silent, and a time to speak. A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

I realized that as the Byrds and King Solomon before him astutely pointed out, certain things will not occur until it is their time. God has a plan and only when I get onboard with it will it come to fruition.

As I thought today, I thought of how I am ready for the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown to be over. As Solomon warns, there is “a time to embrace”, but also “a time to be far from embraces.” For whatever reason, this virus is causing the world havoc. While God does not cause illness or evil, he does allow it to happen. There are some lessons we need to learn. Some of those lessons, which are unique and as varied as there are people on the planet, are being learned right now because of this pandemic.

I am so anxious to graduate already. I want to be finished with nursing school and start my new career already. However, there is “A time to build” and I need to build on my knowledge before I can “tear down” my experience/situation of being a student. In God’s time, which will come soon enough, I will graduate.

I really want to move to a new state which I plan to do after graduation. Perhaps there are things God needs me to do here still. My dad recently died and my mom and I live nearby. As we adjust, we are together a lot. Perhaps God wants us to mourn this together. This is “a time to mourn” and the excitement of moving will come again in a time when we are not mourning.

I am ready to be in a relationship and be married. I have found someone, but I am not quite there yet. Solomon says there is “a time to love.” Perhaps my long-distance boyfriend and I can learn more about each other from afar. Maybe it prevents us from rushing into things. Maybe the distance and time until living nearby gives us each a chance to fix things within ourselves before we are finally read to be “all in”. There is “a time to plant”, “a time to laugh”, and “a time to dance”. We will have all of these times very soon.

I don’t know why God wants me to wait. I suppose it might be a big exercise in learning patience – an important virtue I lack. God knows what is best for me. God knows what is best for my family. God knows what is best for my love interest. There are ways to get what I want sooner. I could quit school and move. I could forget about finding love and only focus on my nursing school and future career. I could transfer to a new nursing school in another city. There are ways that I can get what I want sooner. God did give me free will, but God still has his hands in my life. I let him. I want God to be my captain. Yet, when God is my captain and steering my far away, I like to complain that he is delaying my arrival even when he could be saving me from a terrible storm. God asks me to wait. There is a season and I must wait. All things will come. Why waiting is necessary is not known to me at this time, but that does not mean that waiting is a waste or unimportant. God wants me to wait.

Whatever the reason, there is a season – Turn! Turn! Turn!

Lockdown and Who to Turn To

It’s lockdown – STILL.

While some states, even my own, are opening things up, it is a staggered approach, people are afraid, and friends don’t want to go out with you even if there is no reason they are not allowed. It is time to be alone, though you may not want to. Never fear though, I have a few saints to turn to.

St. Hildegard of Bingen – Why Hildegard, you might wonder. Or, “Who is that?” many might ask. Hildegard was placed under the care of Jutta, an anchoress, when she was only 8 years old. Renowned in spiritual direction, writing, music, prayer, and mysticism, this German lady never left her walled off part of the church where she lived her life.

Padre Pio – This modern stigmatist was persecuted throughout his life. At times he was forbidden from saying public mass and hearing confessions. Living life as a monk, this poor priest was often shut off from the world he lived to serve. Like us, he knows what isolation is.

Simeon Stylites – This saint celebrated in the east and west was an ascetic. He spent much of his time atop a pillar away from others. Local boys would bring food to him, where he prayed from his perch. I have heard of a couple saints on pillars, but it always fascinates me because I can’t imagine doing that myself. I would be afraid to fall asleep but also incapable of staying awake. I could make it a few hours, perhaps, but no longer. I don’t really know why going up high makes them feel closer to go, unless they literally feel closer, but what works for them is what matters.

St. Paul – We all know about Paul. He persecuted Christians and oversaw Stephen’s martyrdom. He met Jesus on the road to Damascus and was blinded for three days. He preached the gospels to the gentiles and he was eventually martyred for the cause he initially hated. But, before this martyrdom, the prolific new testament writer spend much time in jail, awaiting his execution. Paul knew what it was to be alone, but he never lost faith in Jesus, even when his cell was dark, food was scarce, and christians were brutalized everywhere.

Mother Teresa – Truly one of my favorites, Mother Teresa is “A Saint of Darkness”. For most of her life, essentially all of it when in the slums of Calcutta, Mother Teresa did not feel the presence of Jesus in her life. She was always lonely, but never alone. Day in and day out, she served the sick and dying. Plucking the ill from the gutter, she escorted even the dirtist untouchables to her hospices. She embraced orphans, and prayed for non-Christians as her brothers and sisters. All of this, but she did not feel Jesus in her life. How alone to not feel Jesus, but it was this loneliness that allowed her to empathize with the dying and destitute she encountered.

Martin de Porres – Abandoned by his father as a child, Martin grew up in a society where he was always an outsider. Because he was mixed-race, Martin was never fully accepted anywhere and he had to be a brother, not a priest, in the Dominican Order. Despite how the world saw him, Martin was a healer to many, he was a great friend of Rose of Lima, another saint, and seemed to know miraculous things and work miracles and talk to animals. While the world did not accept him, it is clear Jesus did.

Above are a number of saints from a number of places and time periods. There are men and women. All were alone in some way or another, but all were loved by God. We are alone right now, during lockdown, but God still loves us. We can learn to succeed and spread our gifts like Hildegard. We can pray for others like Martin, and we can help the sick like Mother Teresa. We can still do things to serve our God and our brothers and sisters, but the question is: ARE WE?

It’s lockdown. We might feel abandoned, but we are not. What can we do for others at this time when so many are sick, jobless, lonely, depressed, poor, homeless, etc? God gave us all a mission and some of that mission must be fulfilled during lockdown. Are we doing our part? Turn to these saints and ask for help in discerning your next step.