On the Second Sunday of Advent three years ago, my first spiritual reflection was published in The Defender, the church bulletin I edit. It was December 6, 2009, Church Year C, and John the Baptist was urging us, as he is this weekend, to “prepare the way of the Lord.” My inaugural reflection was about learning the difference between expectation and anticipation as a way to prepare during the pre-Christmas season.
The woman I was three years ago didn’t know what to expect of the future, but she eagerly anticipated a miracle. Something in her was changing, as evidence by her eagerness to write for the first time in many years, and the blessing of such an amazing forum provided by God.
I wrote reflections on the Sunday readings for the community of St. Michael’s every week for more than two years. What started as simple recollections from childhood and vignettes from everyday life as a wife and mother of small children became an increasingly more intimate disclosure of my personal inner spiritual journey through shortcomings and character defects, through lessons learned and fears faced head on, and through growth and surprising outcomes. You journeyed with me, sometimes unknowingly, as I discerned the end of an unhappy marriage, the loss of a dear friendship, the fear of not knowing where I would live or how I would pay my bills, the pain of loneliness, the struggle to trust new friends, and the simultaneous thrill and terror of falling in love again. Everything I have written was inspired by a back story, and each word was as much a revelation to me as it was to anyone who read them. God was guiding me through my writing to the answer to every dilemma and uncertainty – faith.
I don’t know why God opened that door to writing three years ago, and I don’t understand why he closed it last February. It broke my heart. It angered me. I mourned, even as I attempted to continue living the gift He’d given me by nurturing this website. But without a weekly deadline and the regular pats on the back from my fellow parishioners, it was all too easy to get lazy and let it slide. Also, God blessed me with a flood of freelance work that stretched me creatively, and a new job that supports my family and allows me to play a small part in giving hope to people who live in generational poverty. My gifts have new outlets, new priorities, and pages of incomplete reflections written in my notebook – stuff that never got typed, and even more insights that were never fleshed out at all. They are lost in the wasteland of my memory now, lessons forgotten and thus to be re-learned one day, probably the hard way. But the lessons I’ve shared, those I got to keep.
That’s the irony about human life and love – to keep it, we have to give it away. Having a full and busy life is not the same thing as having a fulfilling life. In my experience, fulfillment comes when I make love and service my number one priority. Today I am a divorced single mother of three children who are growing faster than I ever could have imagined. I am a writer, a designer, and an executive director of one of the largest social and service organizations in my city. I am less afraid to be weak and vulnerable and intimate. I have seen first hand that when it appears everything is falling apart, it is actually falling together. I have learned to trust God. The miracle I anticipated three years ago happened, and keeps happening.
Yet I often feel incomplete. Especially at this time of year, I feel what’s missing. I miss the comfort and support of a spouse. I miss the simplicity of toddlerhood and preschool. I even miss some of those shortcomings and defects that plagued me – they were really just survival skills honed to perfection by the circumstances I found myself in through the years. Even with practice, letting go never seems to get any easier. Maybe this is why I am reluctant to give.
This Second Sunday of Advent in Church Year C, it is not John the Baptist’s words that speak to me, but St. Paul’s words to the Philippians:
“I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Continue to complete. Apparently completion is not something that is done once and is finished. It is a continuing process that doesn’t stop until “the day of Christ Jesus,” which is, in my head at least, “code” for eternity. Whatever emptiness I feel is actually a blessing, for God cannot complete and fill what is already completed and filled. The more empty, open and incomplete I am, the more opportunity there is for God’s miracles to fill that space.
As I sat in church listening to the words of St. Paul this weekend, I imagined the arms of this saint wrapping around my shoulders in a bear hug like the big brother I never had as he whispered in my ear:
This is my prayer:
that your love may increase ever more and more
in knowledge and every kind of perception,
to discern what is of value,
so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,
filled with the fruit of righteousness
that comes through Jesus Christ
for the glory and praise of God.
And like an adoring little sister, all I want is to be the fulfillment of his prayer. On the Second Sunday of Advent, Church Year C, the circle is complete, and I’m back where I started, feeling the change in the air and anticipating miracles. I can’t wait to share them with you so I get to keep them!