Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: How Do I Know God Loves Me?

Sometimes it’s easy to wonder. Things can go terribly wrong in our lives, often through events or circumstances outside of our control. The world can feel like an unfriendly place. Where is God in it all? How do I know he loves me?

  • Look around you. We generally see what we want to see. If you expect to see bad things, you will. But if you expect to look around yourself and see God’s presence and love, even in small things, then you will see that, too. The gift of such a crazy beautiful world is a good sign of God’s love.
  • Read scripture. Especially the Gospel of John. The leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the promise of God’s love for every one of us. And remind yourself that Jesus died for you, personally: the greatest indication of God’s love there ever could be.
  • See Christ in others. It’s easy to judge those who are different from us. If you can stop and see Christ in everyone around you, then it will be easier to be Christ to others, too, letting God’s love flow through you and into others’ lives.

God knows every one of us inside and out, far better than we know ourselves. He has promised to never leave us, to never forsake us. Saint Paul wrote, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Inspiration

How Do You Want to be Remembered?

Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to reflect on the reality of my baptism. I was visiting my family and I asked my mom to pull out my baptismal certificate so that I could see exactly when I was baptized. As I unfolded the certificate, I was shocked at what I found.

My name was spelled wrong.

In that moment, the importance of my baptism hit me like a ton of bricks. I know that I was baptized and that a parish secretary’s typo couldn’t change that. But as I looked at the certificate with a name that was not my own on it, I had to stop and think about what my baptism really meant. If it was merely a legal formality, then the typo might have rendered it questionable.

Baptism is never a formality, though. It is valid and changes us forever whether we have a certificate that tells us about it or not. That’s because once we belong to Christ, that can never be taken back. Thanks be to God.

Because here’s the thing: Jesus loves you.

Over and over again, we need to be reminded of that fact. In our world where we can become so easily discouraged, where relationships can be betrayed so quickly, and where things our constantly changing, this is the one thing that remains. This is what gives us the freedom to follow God’s plan for us, even when it seems crazy or painful. It is the knowledge that we can trust him because he really, truly loves us.

Throughout history, there have been many people who allowed their entire lives to be defined by the fact that they were loved by God. These are saints. But there’s one saint in particular who quite literally allowed his entire identity to rest in the knowledge that Jesus loved him: St. John the Apostle and Evangelist.

St. John wrote the fourth Gospel. He was one of Jesus’ closest disciples, present at many key events in the life of Christ. And so, as he was recording the life of Christ, he naturally included himself in the story. But he didn’t just want to refer to himself as “John.” No, that wouldn’t accurately convey his identity. Ultimately, he made a bold decision as to how he wanted to be remembered.

Throughout the Gospel, John refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” That’s how he wanted to be remembered: as one who was loved by Jesus.

Sometimes we take the fact that we are loved by God for granted, as a given. After all, everyone is loved by God, aren’t they? So that isn’t what makes us special. We would rather be remembered by what makes us stand apart. Maybe it’s the beautiful family we’ve raised, the job that we worked hard for, or how we have helped the people that we love.

But God’s love for each person is unique. God has never loved another person in that way that he loves you because there has never been another person who has ever existed who has been just like you. He created you just so that he could love you and you could know his love. Your greatest identity lies in the fact that the Creator of the Universe has loved you to the point of death.

Through Baptism, we fully take on this identity of being ones who are loved by God. Whether we are baptized as infants or as adults, at the moment of our Baptism we become children of God, totally engulfed by his great love for us.

“I claim you for Christ our Savior,” the priest says as he makes the Sign of the Cross on the person about to be baptized. When we are baptized, we are no longer our own. We are no longer defined by our failures nor even our successes, no longer defined by our sin nor by our greatest works of charity, but are defined by the fact that the King of the Universe has claimed us as his own. Nothing else can compare to that.

You have undoubtedly done things throughout your life that you deserve to be proud of. They are things that have taken great skill and effort or challenges that you have overcome with great perseverance. There are also likely some things that you have done or have happened to you that you are less proud of. But wherever you find yourself today, may you find peace in knowing that God has already given you the greatest gift to be remembered by: his unique love for you.

 

By Sr Cecilia Ciccone, novice

Inspiration, Listening to the Heart

This New Year, focus on memories, not resolutions

Every January first, and after my annual retreat, and countless days in between, I get a sudden surge of determination and I buckle down with a new regimen of resolutions which I keep for about… I’m sorry to say… a few days….

There was the time I was determined to drink kefir twice a day for my health. After about two weeks, it became harder and harder to drink it even once a day! Eventually it became an on-again, off-again resolution. I tell myself I love variety, that’s why I don’t keep to such a regimen. And eventually I get back on it… for a while!

Or the year I was determined to pray an extra hour at night… Right now I’ve gone back to praying and writing at night, but more realistically I get up later in the morning. Age or common sense have caught up with me!

Beginnings offer us that window of optimism that allows us to surf on an untainted wave of goodwill. As soon as difficulties or slips occur, that good will begins to wane. Even if you have a character that thrives on order and repetition, resolutions can render our hearts hard when they’re reduced to duty and devoid of love’s freshness.

I’ve noticed that something new comes about in my life most often when I’m not trying to make it happen. Often I have no doubt it is an outright gift from God.

Like the afternoon when I was doing research in the writings of St. Augustine for a project while taking care of our front desk here at the convent. I was alone in the room. I’m certain of that. Yet, at a certain point, as I read a sentence from Augustine in which he talked about our struggle with the world, the flesh, and the devil, I was able to be honest about an inner struggle I had tried to hide even from myself. I had tried for years to fix it, dress it up, make it go away, hide it—to no avail. It was there. I had to admit it was mine. That afternoon, an arrow of truth pierced the lies I’d tried to tell myself about myself. And in that very instant when my heart was broken open in contrition, I knew I was seen deeply and loved even more deeply.

I remember looking around the room because I knew unmistakably that I was no longer alone in my struggle. The eyes of Jesus held my heart in their tender yet truthful gaze, as these words resounded in my heart: “I don’t care if you ever get this fixed. That isn’t the point. As long as you look at me and allow me to look at you, and we keep gazing into each other’s eyes, that is what I truly desire. It is what more deeply matters.” No longer was I carrying my secret burden alone. In an instant it had been taken from me. Something no resolution had been able to vanquish. Now it was gone. As if it no longer existed. Had never existed. Replaced only with the face of my Redeemer who wanted a relationship with me. That was all. And that was everything.

Marko Rupnik, S.J. would call this a moment of radical reconciliation. “It deals with a new creation, because it leads us back to living the radical newness constituted by Baptism, its general and gratuitous pardon” (Discernment: Acquiring the Heart of God, page 111). It is a Lazarus moment, in which we hear the voice of the Lord calling us out of our tomb. “In this event, one experiences not only the forgiveness of individual sins, but the Father’s forgiveness of all of our sins. One has been washed clean. All at once one sees that one’s sins have been in some way a choice, and that perhaps one’s openness to God was only a pretense. At this moment our eyes are completely opened” (page 110).

This moment of reconciliation, the passing through the Red Sea, death and resurrection, is a foundational event in our life. It changed me. It marked me forever. There will always be a “before” and “after” that event. It is a memory, a spiritual memory, more powerful than any resolution for recalling me to a relationship in which God takes the initiative to draw my heart’s attention to what is most valuable: the delight of his love, his loving delight in me in my poverty and weakness.

I still decide to take up habits as though they were hobbies. These resolutions add spice to my life, and open up exciting possibilities. I always learn from them, as short-lived as they sometimes are. Perhaps they fail because they are rooted in anxious desires for getting it right. They emerge from isolation. They are my attempts to be the protagonist of my own life and holiness.

The spiritual memory of how I have been radically reconciled to God, on the other hand, puts me in contact with the Father who cares for me. I relive how God takes the initiative in my life. How I am not alone. How by focusing on what I think is important, I can miss entirely what in my Father’s heart.

So as this new year begins, before you begin to plan out your “new you,” stop just long enough to ask what is behind your resolutions and strategies. Maybe instead of looking forward, look back toward your moment of radical reconciliation, when you knew utterly that you had been redeemed, saved even from yourself. When God made a way through the sea for you. When you had been raised from death as an utter gift. Take what you learned there, what you heard in your heart, the defining point of that experience.

This year, make that the theme of your year, to walk in the path that God has created, the path on which he waits for you.

 

by Sr. Kathryn James Hermes, FSP

photo: José Ignacio Heredia for Cathopic

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: How to Love 2020

For many if not most, 2019 was a year of trials, disasters, and fear, and many of us find it difficult to perceive much change in the new year. But as Christians we are called to be a people of hope, and there are things that we can do to bring more light to ourselves and to those around us!

  • In 2020, let’s continue our Advent tradition to #PutJesusFirst. If you start every day with even just a quick prayer, committing the day to Christ, then you’ve changed the whole day already!
  • Don’t look for the pain. It’s all around us, and it can be overwhelming. Make it a point every day to look for the joy in the world and in your life. It’s there!
  • Get over yourself. The best way to find hope is to give it. Volunteer to do something in your parish or community. There is always someone who needs you!

Remember that we are not the first ones to face difficult times, and nor are we alone. Jesus is with us, every day, every step, and our hope is built on his promises and his love. 2020 can be a year of celebration of God’s work in the world—if we make it happen!

 

 

Photo: Moisés Becerra LC for Cathopic

Christmas, Everyday Grace

3 Ways to Banish the Post-Christmas-Day Blues

There’s a lot of work, thought, anticipation, and activity leading up to Christmas Day, and, for many people, the following weeks feel like something of a letdown. The jolly Santa Claus images are looking a little tired; the big event we’ve been waiting for has come… and gone. How do you cope with the post-Christmas blues?

  • Keep the light going. The Christmas season is all about light: leave your nativity set out (and pray to the Infant Jesus), keep the decorations blinking and the candles lit: this is the season that gets us through the dark nights of winter and all the way to the Baptism of Our Lord and on to Candlemas.
  • Take care of yourself. Banish the blues! First of all, there’s a good probability that you gained some weight with all those holiday parties. Second of all, exercise releases endorphins, and that will make you feel great.
  • Reach out. Did you know there’s a spike in calls to crisis centers right after Christmas? Loneliness and depression can move in for many different reasons. This is an excellent time to volunteer with an organization that reaches out to those who are alone, homeless, ill, elderly, or shut-in. And getting you outside of yourself will improve your mood, too!

The manger was just the first step of our journey of faith, the journey that will take us though to the cross and the resurrection. Keeping that in perspective, and doing what we can to help ourselves and help others, is what will surely beat the post-Christmas blues!

Christmas, Inspiration, Listening to the Heart

Widening Our Love at Christmas

My first Christmas in the convent was last year. I had been in the United States only one month, and was far away from my home in Portugal. Those weeks before Christmas became the stage for me to ponder the question that Advent poses to each of us: What is Christmas?

As I found myself with my co-novices in St. Louis over Christmas, I sensed within me a reluctance or resistance to accepting that things in my life had changed so radically and so quickly. I began to wonder whether Christmas was what I had always believed it to be.

As the Advent season wore on, my inner struggle increased. Being stripped of everything I knew about Christmas—my family, my home, our traditions with our flavors, music, and decorations, my community, my country—my heart was stretched more than I felt able to bear. It seemed to me Jesus needed a space to be born in me, a space greater than the ocean I had crossed.

It was almost Christmas night when, I don’t know if I was feeling sorry for myself or being honest for the first time, I told Jesus I couldn’t stretch my heart open any more to receive him. If I stretched another millimeter I would break. After all, how could a child occupy so much space inside me?

In the silence, after all my energy had been used to really say what I felt, I heard Jesus say that he would stretch from heaven to earth for me. This immediately made the ocean that separated me from Portugal seem very small. And Jesus would do this for me, even if my heart was preoccupied, even if the only thing I had to offer, almost if only to avoid feeling guilty, was a stable…

And in that moment my heart widened another millimeter and did not break.

After that widening of my heart, I received a letter on Christmas Eve, a Christmas card from a sister in my community in Portugal, which reminded me about the One I was expecting, that One we are expecting on Christmas:

For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Each of us will be given this Child, who is born to be Light. To be the great light that guides us and illuminates the darkness that exists in our lives, in the darkness that exists in the world. And confident of this promise, on Christmas Eve, we go to church at night, so that this light may shine within us.

We go at night, because in us there is darkness that only the coming of Jesus can dispel. We go at night, because so often we do not see the way, and Jesus is born to give us the counsel. We go at night, because sometimes the future brings fears, and Jesus is born to give us the fortress. We go at night, because death makes us distrust the promise of God’s life, and Jesus is born to give us Eternity. We go at night, because divisions continue to exist in us and in the world, and Jesus is born to give us peace.

When I think of my first Christmas at the convent, I realize that the dispossession of all I knew as Christmas, far from moving me away from its true meaning, increased my openness to the mystery I was living. And it has increased my openness to a new family, a new home, new traditions and all that Christmas is, too.

It is true that the whole context helped me in this deepening, but I believe the first step of this journey took place within me. I have realized that sometimes we want to live Advent in a serious way and really take a spiritual path. We want to create this space for Jesus to be born within us and we come to Christmas Eve, and we only have a stable inside us to receive it. But Christmas is also accepting our poverty to welcome Jesus, yet still doing the best we can. Because we can trust that he, in his love for us, will come—no matter what.

And in this trust, everything we know as Christmas, family, traditions, decorations, presents, memories, can be lived as a gift. Can be lived with this deep understanding, that the ultimate end of every gift is to love God and our brothers and sisters. Anything that does not have this purpose is not a gift, it is not Christmas.

At Midnight Mass, I saw many families sitting together in the pews of the church, and for a moment I found myself remembering so many times in the past in which I had sat in the pews of my parish together with my family, celebrating the birth of Jesus. But with my new community, with my co-novices, with all those people from a parish that was not mine, I felt very deeply the joy of Jesus being born among humanity, I felt a joy that was greater than what I knew, I felt the joy of what I’ve believed as far back as I can remember.

A child has been given to us, the child of God who comes to save us!

 

by Sr. Marta Gaspar, novice, Daughters of St. Paul

image: Christmas at Faro, Portugal, wikicommons

Advent, Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace:How to Wait During Advent

We’ve all spent a significant amount of our time waiting. Waiting for an appointment, waiting for a kid to come home, waiting for an overdue airplane, waiting our turn at the grocery store. No one likes waiting; its very definition is postponement. Postponement of joy, of relief, of getting things done. So why does the Church give us Advent? Why assign a whole season just to waiting? Why not go directly to Christmas?

I’d like to suggest that things happen in the waiting. Waiting is liminal time, time spent between one thing and another, and that is often where the magic happens. Advent makes sure we’re ready for Christmas.

  • Advent waiting is finite. We wait for love and marriage without knowing if it will come. We wait for justice. We wait for healing. The hardest thing about waiting is not knowing when it’s going to end, or even if it’s going to end. The waiting that comes with Advent is fun because it’s finite. We know what’s coming at the end of our wait will be good, and we know exactly how many days we have left to wait for it. You can find stress in waiting, or you can find joy in knowing how and when it will end.
  • Advent waiting is preparatory. We make space for special things—Christmas trees, holiday foods, hidden presents. But we also have to make space inside ourselves, open ourselves to the Child on his way. Our hearts are his home, so they must be prepared.
  • Advent waiting is hopeful. As this part of the world moves deeper into winter, the shortened days and longer nights can feel dark. But there is a Light that shines in darkness: the one who loves, redeems, and heals the world is on his way. We, and our whole community of faith, are the people of hope. Let’s live it fully!

Hold your breath: it is almost here. The waiting is nearly over.

Advent, Christmas, Listening to the Heart

What if I can’t “rest merry”?

In the shops, it’s all “God rest ye merry, gentlemen,” but every time Margaret hears the words, she wants to cry. She’s going about her everyday Advent errands, dutifully buying gifts and wrapping paper and cards; but, “I feel like there’s a barrier between me and everybody else,” she says. “Like I’m seeing them through some kind of blurry lens.” The reason for that distance? “My husband died in September,” Margaret replies. “I just can’t synch up. I feel sad in the middle of so many people being happy. When I do forget for a moment, when I feel even the smallest joy, I immediately feel guilty for not thinking about Daniel.”

Margaret’s story isn’t unique. No matter when we lose people we love, the first Christmas without them is bound to be painful. And that pain isn’t reserved for death: the sadness of the breakup of a relationship, the loss of a job, missing a faraway friend, fearing for a loved one in the throes of a major illness or addiction… the list goes on and on, for there are myriad events and situations that leave us feeling grief-stricken and therefore inadequate at Christmastime.

My childhood Christmases were shadowed by a death in my own family. When I was two years old, my sister Adele was born with hydrocephalus, a condition that has effective treatments today but very few then. She was born in October and died a few days before Christmas, and my mother never fully grieved—or recovered. All through my growing-up years, she sat and watched the rest of us trim the tree, never joining in because it made her so sad. I understand the depth of her pain, but I think she never really understood what its expression did to the rest of us.

I can’t think that God wanted our Christmases to be dismal, or for Margaret’s to be guilt-ridden. But how else can you cope with overwhelming grief when the world tells you to be merry?

If you Google words like “Catholic” and “grief” and “Christmas,” you’ll find some extremely sensible suggestions for practical ways of getting through—asking others for help, honoring missing loved ones, taking time for oneself. If you are grieving this year, I urge you to read them—especially, perhaps, these 64 tips. But the reality is that nearly all these approaches are strategic in nature, offering guidelines for how to manage grief during the holidays. And of course that’s necessary: we all need ways of coping with the various feelings, situations, people, and memories that can exacerbate sorrow during Advent and Christmas.

But the real need is for something beyond coping strategies. As many people who have moved through grief and sadness have learned, one great comfort is in storytelling; grief loves stories, because it is resistant to logic and linear thinking, but wraps itself lovingly around a narrative. It’s why we take comfort in telling stories about those we have lost.

Advent and Christmas are just filled with holy narratives. What can they tell us about handling grief?

The first thing they say is we’re not alone. In the most difficult places on our path, spaces of sanctuary are waiting for us. Pregnant, unmarried, and alone, Mary is in a perilous state after Gabriel departs; she has said the most luminous and yet most perilous “yes” that humankind can say. What does she do next? She goes in search of someone who can help. She goes to her cousin Elizabeth, who welcomes Mary and offers her safety, blessing, and sanctuary (Luke 1:39-45). Where are places—and people—who represent sanctuary in your life? Can you turn to them now?

The second thing we learn from the Scripture story is to open ourselves to the unexpected. Joseph was in terrible grief when he learned of Mary’s pregnancy. His whole future was shattered. Not only marriage but divorce was now in his path. He must have felt sick at heart, numb, empty. And what happens? Joseph falls asleep and God speaks to him in his dream (Matthew 1:20-21; 2:13, 19-20, 22). When God wants to convey something to us, he frequently uses unexpected methods: dreams, stories, metaphors, intuition, poetry, art. God often manifests in our peripheral vision. Are there places where you might be able to discern him now?

Finally, Scripture tells us that incarnation begins in darkness. The country was occupied and its people enslaved, and this is where God chose to be born. God comes to us in the darkness that Advent begins to pierce, and promises we shall see a great light. When we are in pain and grief, when our world has come undone, when we cannot see the next step on the path, that is precisely where God meets us. His first priority is not to do away with the dark—but to be present to us in it. Comfort my people, Isaiah cries, and “I will give you treasures of darkness” (Isaiah 45:3). Can you look for God’s presence, not beyond your pain, but within it?

This is not the end of God’s story, and it isn’t the end of your story, either. The way you feel this Advent and Christmas is not the way you will always feel. As difficult as it is to imagine in these painful moments, there will be holidays when lightness returns to you. There will be holidays when you can celebrate with memory rather than grief.

But in the meantime, take God’s Word to heart. You are not alone. Stay open to the unexpected. Sit with God in the darkness. Christmas is coming.

by Jeannette de Beauvoir

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Maintain Your Joy in Advent

We all seem to start Advent with energy. Even if we’re looking at lists with too much to do on them, recipes we have no ideas how to crack, friends arriving at inopportune times… it’s still just the start of the miraculous season. But then Advent II comes along and we recognize the theme is peace and there is suddenly less and less of it around. Our jobs can seem dull; some of us have lost them. Our families are scattered among too many activities. And we worry if we’ve left someone off the Christmas-present list. What can we do” Here are three suggestions:

  • Pray more, not less. It may or may not be St. Francis de Sales who said, “I pray for a half-hour, unless I’m very busy; then I pray for an hour,” but you get the point. In the midst of our busyness, we need God more than ever. It is his son’s birth we are about to celebrate, so let’s spend time with that family as well as our own!
  • Stay close to the story. Those of you who grew up in large families, or have families of your own, you know how arduous the last weeks of pregnancy are. Be with Mary in her time of trial. She is traveling, uncertain, afraid, and very aware that she will soon be giving birth. Stay close to her; say a particular Rosary to be with her in these days and hours of difficulty.
  • Be in the moment, but look ahead. This is the Church’s new year: now, not January 1, is when she liturgical year changes. Why not make this a time to look forward into the next Church year? Are there “resolutions” you can make that will bring you closer to God in this new year? Can you commit to a special prayer, or a new service?

 

Advent is a tricky time, and it’s always more difficult to navigate than we think. Stay open to what God sends your way, welcome it with open arms, and see what the Lord has in store for you today!

Christmas

When Things Don’t Go As Planned

by Sr. Cecilia Cicone, novice

When I was eight years old, all I wanted for Christmas was a scooter. I enjoyed riding my bike around our neighborhood, but all of the other kids would ride on their scooters. They would make sharp turns and do jumps and tricks that were simply impossible on a bicycle. I made it known to my parents and to Santa at the mall that all that I really needed for that year to full of Christmas joy was a brand new scooter. Preferably a blue one, but that was less important.

Christmas morning rolled around and, sure enough, the first present that I opened was that scooter. I remember being flooded with excitement and waiting for the moment when I could bundle up and take it for a test ride in our cul-de-sac. When that moment finally came, I put on my helmet and opened our garage door. I was not prepared for what happened next.

As the door opened, I heard the whirring sound of motors running through our neighborhood. My heart sank when I realized what it was coming from. Almost every child in the neighborhood had received an electric scooter for Christmas. They were practically flying around our neighborhood as I tried in vain to keep up with my new scooter, propelled only by my little eight-year-old leg.

Just moments after I received the very thing that I had wanted most, suddenly it wasn’t enough. My parents attempted to use it as an opportunity to teach me about gratitude and remind me of the importance of physical exercise, but the disappointment that I felt on that Christmas morning still sticks with me all these years later.

When I recall this story, I realize that it contains a lesson I have had to learn over and over again throughout my life. That there are many times when I think if only I had that one thing, if only that one conversation would have gone better, or if only things had gone exactly as I had planned them, then I would be at peace. Then, I would be happy. Then, things would be as they should be.

You see, like most people, I like things to go according to my plan. There’s something about Christmas that seems to bring that attitude out. Maybe it’s all of the memories we have, or the picturesque Christmas movies we’ve seen, but we do our best to make Christmas “perfect” for ourselves and our loved ones. We spend precious time picking out the perfect gifts, we labor tirelessly over the cookies we bake, and we make plans to see Christmas lights and drink hot chocolate. Then everyone will be at peace. Then we will all be happy. Then things will be as they should be.

Then a family argument breaks out before we even open presents, we drop the container of cookies on the way to the car, and someone slips on the ice as we go to look at Christmas lights. And although deep in our hearts we know it’s not true, we can’t help but feel like this Christmas wasn’t as good as it could have been. We may even feel like it’s been ruined.

That’s because Christmas isn’t about things going according to plan. In fact, if things had gone “according to plan,” we may not have had Christmas at all! At Christmas, we celebrate precisely the fact that things did not go according to plan— at least, not according to our plan.

If things had gone according to our plan, maybe Adam and Eve would not have eaten the fruit in the garden so that we wouldn’t need a savior at all. For some of us, we would have hoped that Jesus would come as a powerful king so that we would know his power beyond any doubt. We might even wish that God wouldn’t have needed to come at all, that he would have stayed far off and just snapped his fingers to save us.

Thank God that things don’t go according to our plans!

Because things didn’t go according to our plan, God revealed his deep love for us in ways that we never could have imagined. This is especially true on the cross. Because things went according to his plan, we have learned that he is merciful, that absolutely nothing can separate us from his love. We know we don’t need to fear him because he came to us as a tiny infant. Things didn’t go as we might have expected, and so we can look into the manger and see just how close God desires to be to us in each moment. Every time something doesn’t go according to our plan, God reveals something to us about his plan of love.

When I was eight years old, I learned the important lesson that neither a scooter, nor any material thing, would be enough to satisfy me. In truth, only God is enough. It is my prayer, for you and for me, that this Christmas will not go according to our plans. Amidst the burnt cookies and the traffic jams, may we praise God that his plan is the one that always prevails.