Finding the Hidden Gifts
This time of year is always an interesting stretch for me. I’m never sure how it will go. Some years it’s smooth sailing and other years it’s more turbulent. Over the next 40 days I will mark both my parents birthdays, remember the day of my dad’s passing, miss my children deeply, and spar a few rounds with the ghosts of Thanksgiving and Christmas past.
A few years ago I was sharing my dread of this season with my spiritual director when she asked the most constructive question I’ve ever grappled with. “What are the hidden gifts in the midst of all the pain and dread?”
When I open myself up (rather than numbing, medicating, avoiding, denying, etc) and allow that question to probe my heart and mind I find the first hidden gift…
- I was shaped by a family who loved well in the midst of all their imperfections. If they hadn’t I wouldn’t miss them and periodically battle sadness during the holidays.
In many ways and at first reflection, I had the most amazing childhood. On my dad’s side of the family I had a bunch of cousins and we all lived within a half an hour of each other. My earliest memories were preserved and perpetuated by 8mm home movies, many of which flickered images of the entire gagle of us at my grandparents’ farm on Sunday afternoons.
My grandma was a spiritual giant who didn’t stand five feet tall. My grandpa was a barrel chested scoffer who didn’t attend church and made it difficult for my grandma to.
Looking back I wonder if these Sunday afternoons weren’t her times of worship. My aunts all had beautiful voices. It wasn’t uncommon for them at some point to gather around the piano and sing, working out the melodies and harmonies like only sisters can. But a different type of music continued throughout the day. It was the song of squealing grandkids. Imprompto ball games popped up for the big kids as well as wagon rides behind the tractor for us littler ones. I can still picture my grandpa on his tractor, straw hat on his head and a corncob pipe clinched loosely between his teeth.
The sermons at these sacred assemblies were found in the stories being told. Wisdom was shared in the barn, under the hood of a car, and in the kitchen. Fathers to sons, mothers to daughters, brothers to sisters. The old and young shuffled and regrouped throughout the day. My dad had five siblings who spanned a wide range of age and spiritual temperature, but at the sanctuary on East Dodge Rd, we were all welcome, accepted, instructed and loved.
The passing of the peace happened as grandma spent time with each of us individually and in small clusters, looking us in the eye, sharing her love…God’s love…with us. And though she has been gone many years I appreciate that time more now than ever. My grandma had every reason to not to be a person of peace and every reason to be bitter, lonely, angry, closed off, and defeated. But she was sweet. Someone else’s actions did not determine her worth or deter her from her purpose which was to love God with all that she was and love her neighbor as herself. And she loved well.
The Eucharist was shared at a mishmash of tables butted up to each other. In colder months picnic tables, folding tables, and card tables stretched out like a domino train through several rooms. In the summer they were carried outside and configured under a shade tree. Simple meals shared by simple hard working people who knew the difference between needs and wants. No one at the table had gone to college. They were the most everyday of everyday pilgrims. Maybe a few of the grandkids would, but not the grownups. They had survived the Great Depression, served somehow in WWII, and did their part to contribute to the American baby boom.
I’m sure those Sundays weren’t as idealic as I’ve described them. There probably was drama among family members. No doubt there were disagreements. If tension existed it was as far from my awareness then as it is from my recollection today. And I receive that too, as a hidden gift today.
What might the hidden gifts be in your situation and circumstances?