The Straw in the Manger

My family whom I love dearly is far from perfect. And even on Christmas night, sometimes we just fall. Sometimes my pride says, “Oh Mikayla are you really so weak that you still fight with your family” or “Seriously aren’t you beyond this”. But the reality is I’m human. So on Christmas night when my mom makes us go to midnight mass, and it’s way past everyone’s bedtime we become so desperate for His grace. We all scuffle into the pew, glaring at each other, and getting annoyed at any little gesture or sound another makes. Internally we all beg Jesus for the grace to not fall asleep or explode from irritability. As I share this I’m tempted to hide it in fear that I’m the only one whose experienced this. Yet I know that’s highly unlikely. It feels like it happens every year, where after all the Christmas hustle an bustle we end up exhausted and irritated, but eager to receive Jesus as we sit in the pew looking rather cross and weary. I would love to jump to the happy conclusion I have come to as I meditated on what I thought was one of the most unholy dignified moments of my life, but there’s an interesting story as to how I got there.

After we got home from mass, argued some more, said our apologies and finished our last minute wrappings I went to bed. But at 3:00 am I was awakened by the sounds of my sister whimpering outside my door. “What’s the problem Megan?” I said. “Ruby is dying” She sobbed.

Ruby was our rabbit that was 8 years old and had outlived all our other rabbits by miles. Ruby was very special to us. We had shown her at rabbit shows, taken her to school whenever she had babies, and I mean she was pretty cute. Knowing there was nothing that could be done I sent Megan up stairs to hold the poor thing until she passed. I was almost asleep, but thought it’s Christmas I shouldn’t make Megan sit up there by herself. I got out of bed, and my little dog Sophie followed. Now Sophie is a snob. She barks when people argue, controls our other dog, and when it comes to the rabbits she pushes them around and wants them to be her babies. With this in mind you can conclude Ruby and Sophie do not get along. In fact I many videos of Ruby snapping at Sophie or getting distraught because Sophie is trying to take her babies. Yet in Ruby’s last moments you would have thought they had been best friends all along. Now I know some of you might not care for sentimental animal feels, or wanna jump in and theologically explain to me how pets don’t go to Heaven, but that not the point, Just listen to the story, and maybe you’ll  learn something like I did. Sophie peered over the couch where Ruby lay across Megan’s lap. She jumped up smelled her, let out a little whimper then curled up next to her. Sophie remained there for the next 6 hours guarding her from the other dog, and just resting beside her. She did not poke at her, or press her nose against her over and over like she normally does. She just laid there. She didn’t even try to open up the Christmas presents, like she normally would when left unsupervised. Sophie has been there when other pets were dying and she would lick them or nudge them as if she could not accept the fact they were dying.This time was different, she just laid there vigilantly. She was just simply present, and is presence not one the greatest gifts of our time.

It was in reflecting on this that Christ reminded me what a family is for. Family is a school of love. Family is the bond that endures our greatest tribulations. Family is made up of the people who know how to bring you to your wits end, but also know how to love you like no other when the walls come caving in. If a dog by its nature and instinct can bring comfort to a dying rabbit, why can’t I through my free will chose to set aside my wants and needs and love my family to the best of my ability, even if that means falling into desperate need of God’s Mercy. I realized I have let my pride build up shame for needing God’s mercy. I have set myself up for failure thinking if my family can walk in like the Brady bunch into midnight mass, then we will finally reach holiness. But is holiness not found in the ones who suffer and endure the most? I mean were the shepherds not tired and exhausted, when they came to adore our Lord on that starry night. Was Mary not exhausted as she welcomed company to adore the Word Made Flesh? Could Joseph have let his mind exhaust itself fretting over the fact that the best place he could find for his wife to give birth to the son of God was a stable? Yes. Yet despite their exhaustion, concerns and cares, they set it all aside to adore the Lord. The circumstances do not have to be ideal, nor our mindsets and persona perfect. We just need to be there and be present. Like the little drummer boy, just give Him your best. No family is perfect, but one striving for holiness looks to love one another even if, not only if. Stop giving care for what the people in the pew behind you might be thinking. Focus on the one you came for, Jesus. Perhaps thank him that your family still has the faith and goes to mass with you (because not everyone reading this has a family who does). And instead of being upset with your families imperfections, embrace them. When your sister pushes you past your breaking point, turn the other cheek. If you fail to do that then turn to Christ who came to Earth to save sinners like us, with His abundant love and mercy.

If you come to him with an arms load of expectations for your family, you miss out on bringing Him the gift he wants the most. What is that you may ask? Love for your family. Love them as he has loved you. And when you find yourself exhausted and clueless turn to the example of the Holy family. The family who suffered greatly, lived as refugees in a foreign country, and lived every day knowing their Son would be everything Simeon had prophesied.They knew He was going to make many rise, yet others would fall, and He would cause great division. And through it all they chose love. Let them intercede for you and your family. And at the end of the day, forgive yourself. No matter how big of a conversion you go through, you will still face trials and tribulations. I can’t recall which saint it was, but on her death bed she laughed saying, “Even in death I am still in need of His mercy” after she made an impatient comment to her sister. Besides being patient and forgiving with yourself as you learn to love your family, pray for the grace to love them even if. I have fallen so many times into the excuse and desperate prayer of Lord if you would just change their heart you coil spare me the pain. It hit me hard like a load of bricks when one day Jesus looked at me, and said “Why have you never asked for the grace to love them the way that they are?” Yeah, chew on that jerky. Just like each member of the Holy family was called to be there to love and support one another, so are you also called to love your family just as they are.

Thank you for enduring that wild loop around. Also a special greetings to all my regular readers in China! And Merry Christmas to you all. And with that I’ll close with some wise words from Mother Teresa “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”

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