"So, how was your Christmas?" she inquired casually as she slipped the needle into my vein and we both caught our breath. It's a familiar ritual. The nurse makes conversation while she draws blood in an attempt to relax us both and draw attention away from the fact that I have chemo-burned veins and this process is not likely to be a simple one. Twenty years after chemotherapy, I have my own blood draw "rules." I never let them talk about my kids. This one goes way back. Nurses used to try to get me to talk about Michael when I was getting potent cytotoxic drugs. I learned very quickly that I did not want to be talking about my cherubic toddler while my veins began to burn and my stomach, to churn. I learned to steer the conversation back to the nurse with the needle.
"It was fine. Yours? Was everyone at home?"
"Yep. Good. Nothing too terrible happened."
Nothing too terrible happened? Is that the standard for a good Christmas?
"You know," she continued, "It's just a lot of work. Clean and shop and wrap and shop and cook and bake and shop and clean some more. And then, it's over. And you clean again. We put so much into making it a wonderful holiday for everyone around us. It's kind of a relief to go back to work and just have to do business as usual."
I murmured some agreement, because I could see her point. I was tired, too. And kind of relieved to be looking ahead to ordinary time and the rhythms of January. I recalled a conversation I'd just had with my friend, Linda. The homilist on Christmas had asked the congregation to look around at all the teenaged girls. He reminded everyone how egocentric teenagers are. The adults in the crowd nodded in agreement. Even the sweetest teenaged girl is naturally more than a little egocentric. Then the priest asked the crowd to look at the mothers and the grandmothers in the group and to think for moment about what they'd been doing for the past few weeks. Isn't it a Christmas miracle that somehow that egocentric girl grows into a woman who gives everything she has to give for the privilege of serving joy to her family?
I've been thinking about that miracle incessantly these last few days. I've been thinking about the "good Christmas" my family assures me it has been. I've been thinking about how hard I worked to arrive here on the crest of this new year. How hard I work year 'round, really, to bring joy to my family and to live out my vocation with interior joy. And, longtime readers know, I'm all about being aware of the joy in life and articulating it to others.
Joy, then. That must be the word that finds me on this new year's day.
But it's not. It's more than that. My reality is that I do not live easily in the perpetual awareness and effusion of joy. My reality is that I beg joy all the time. I pray -- hard -- for that awareness.
And I beg grace.
God's grace. The outpouring of Himself and His strength and His joy into my very being where it can smother my selfishness and bring blessings of joy to the people God has entrusted to my care.
*Grace is a participation in the life of God.
*The Grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes of His own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it.
An infusion! Yes. Please God, fill these creaky veins with Yourself!
*Sancifying grace is an habitual gift, a stable and supernatural disposition that perfects the soul itself, to enable it to live with God, to act by his love. Habitual grace, the permanent disposition to live and act in keeping with God's call...
This is my prayer for this year, for this life: participation in the life of God; His Spirit infused into my very being; a habitual gift, stable and permanent binding me to Our Lord and keeping me in His loving will.
Grace. I want, need, burn for grace.
Grace and joy. But only one word? One word for 2011?
This is it:
Ann Voskamp writes, in One Thousand Gifts, Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are,
The root word of eucharisteo is charis, meaning "grace." Jesus took the bread and saw it as grace and gave thanks. He took the bread and knew it to be gift and gave thanks.
But there is more, and I read it. Eucharisteo, thanksgiving, envelopes the Greek word for grace, charis. But it also holds its derivative, the Greek word chara, meaning "joy." Joy. Ah...yes. I might be needing me some of that. That might be what the quest for more is all about--that which Augustine claimed, "Without exception...all try their hardest to reach the same goal, that is joy."
Eucharisteo. Grace and joy coursing through my veins, powering my life. That is my earnest desire. That is my need, my want, my call. To live this word in this year, I must live His Word. I know this. I know how to pray the psalms with the Church, to make the rhythm of God's voice the rhythm of my life. I know this is where I will find both grace and joy. And I know that word: Eucharisteo. I know it is available, real, and present and tangible in the quiet of the Church, in the every day (Every day? He's there! And waiting. Every single day!) miracle of Christ's body, offered to us.
To the self-centered teenaged girl I am and to the grace-filled bearer of joy I am called to be.
Grace and joy in 2011.
*The Catechism of the Catholic Church 1997-2000