We are home from a whirlwind few days of celebrating and traveling. We, as usual, were abundantly blessed by the generosity of our family. Such thoughtfulness was put into gifts and we felt humbled that these wonderful people gave so very much. For many of them, that giving came at personal sacrifice of their own wants. My grandmother, in particular, is on a very, very fixed income having, as she says, outlived their retirement plans. But still she gave. To be honest, I look at the book and pajamas and puzzle she gave our daughter and wanted to say, "Grandma, please take these back and spend this money on groceries." I looked around at the gifts during all of our celebrations and was taken aback by just how much there was. I wish I could say that I was all humility and gratitude. But some of that time, I was mired in frustration at the excess. How much do we really need? How much is too much? How could that money have been spent to benefit those in need? If you read that and think, "Wow, Keri! Self-righteous, much?" you'd probably be right.
I was on the phone recently with someone who abhors the idea of giving gifts, saying "I'll just buy myself what I want." This woman is without any religious persuasion. Without much thought, I said, "but have you ever thought of what is does in the giver's heart to ponder a gift for you, to think of your likes and dislikes, to think of something that might make you smile? Maybe that's the purpose of all this giving, the softness that comes in our own hearts."
I thought of this over the weekend as I lamented what I perceived to be the excess. And then I wondered if I was right in my quick retort to my friend. Maybe the greater good is what happened to my mom as she worked a second job to purchase all these gifts. Maybe God was at work in my dad as he worked overtime on a fire engine as his back spasmed all day long to pay for these gifts. While I want to kick and scream and hand back even my most treasured gifts so that my precious family doesn't have to work so hard, I have to wonder if there is more at work here. Do I need to trust that while my desire for simplicity is indeed very good, is what is happening in the hearts of our generous, giving family the greater good?
This Christmas also brought some heavy sorrow to our family. Someone we all love dearly is walking a journey I pray I never walk and living with a shattered heart. Watching it was nothing short of brutal. During time spent talking with this sweet one, I wanted to spout off every single thing I learned about counseling and the stages of grief and healthy coping mechanisms (and very predictably did spout off as much as I could.) At one point during the weekend, there was a heated discussion in which I made some good, valid points. But the result was still very bad. After all had been hugged out and forgiven, I had to wonder. Despite my desire for this person to walk the path of the least pain, was the greater good what he will learn while walking that path? Or was the greater good even that I might have to practice one of the very tenets of the faith I profess, that of forgiveness? My mom so lovingly said to me, "Keri, even though you were right, you were wrong." I was wrong because I couldn't (wouldn't?) see the hand of God in all of this. I was trying to, by my own power, orchestrate a resolution. You'd think by now I'd realize how that usually turns out.
As I reflect on this blessed holiday, I can think of so many other areas where a greater good could prevail. While I attempted to corral my wild child during 95% of Christmas Eve Mass, did I make an elderly lady smile, remembering her days as a literal shepherd? Did I make another mom feel less like an awful parent because I too was trying to keep my kid from tipping over the holy water? While I thought of all the effort my in-laws put into hauling rocking chairs to Atlanta and the expense of that for a retired couple, will those chairs help me rock babies for years to come or be the site of heart to hearts with my husband?
This Christmas season was full of love and joy and giving and pain and sacrifice and hurt. But at every juncture, I can see where luscious fruit may grow. Maybe the greater good in every bit of it is that God is at work and by letting even the bad play out, He has the space to do HIS will.