In the reading for today, the fourth Sunday in Advent, I heard a wonderful phrase in the Gospel from Matthew. The account tells of Joseph learning that Mary is pregnant. He intends to separate from her, since the baby isn’t his. “Such was his intention,” the text states. Unfortunately for his plans, he is given a different message. While I think that angels look nothing like this image, I do think the depiction of Joseph represents his situation pretty realistically. He really had other plans!
Whatever your faith, and whatever texts you read in your tradition, I think we can all recognize those times when we had “an intention” and life sent us in a different direction. I intended to have several children: I had one. I intended to always be in a two parent household: I spent 11 years as a single parent. I intended to remain close friends with someone: she raged at me and stopped speaking.
Now I hold my intentions a little more lightly. We really don’t have complete control over our lives. We need flexibility to deal with the reality that we meet. We don’t have to spend time in the “if only” unless we decide to spend all our time looking back. And sometimes reality is much better than our “best intentions.” After all, when I finished the Gregg summer school course, I intended to never type again. And then they invented computer keyboards!
Here in New England we have just had our first bout of snow. It was only a few inches, just enough to give us time to find our mittens, hats, scarves and boots from the dark recesses of the closet where they had taken refuge earlier in the year. The little playhouse in the background is snowed in. The fence mid-yard forms a barrier between the dog’s yard and the play area. With the next snow, she will be able to walk over it. A bit of our red canoe still peeks out behind the garage, reminding us that the lake once thawed. And poor St. Francis, surrounded by zinnias in the summer, now sports snow for a hairpiece.
Seasons help me recognize parallel shifts in my own life. I need dormant times too, times to regroup, slow down and become more contemplative. Winter, with its short days, encourages me in these pursuits. And Advent is a time for reflection and stillness.
The roads are a mess as they always are after the first snow. Even the plow drivers have to get back in the groove. And people need to remember how to drive on ice and snow. By the next onslaught we will be back in the pattern of winter. Going out early to clear off the car(the garage on the left of the picture houses tools and the snowblower, leaving no room for the car!), salting the steps, clearing the sidewalk. We will once again yell:”Take off your boots before you come in here!”
Then spring will come along and startle us with buds and breezes. We will have forgotten all about it, so convinced that winter would never end.
I choose to not show any pictures of people in my family who are still living, believing that they deserve privacy. So this stock image will have to suffice to substitute for my actual grandchildren.I have been reflecting on kindness this Advent, and now reflect on the kindness of children. My own grandchildren to be specific.
On Saturday they showed up at my door to get out all the Christmas decorations I have in the basement. I have always worn myself out carrying all the boxes upstairs and setting everything up. That day, they carried everything upstairs, just needing me to point to what needed to go. Then they opened all the boxes and set up decorations where I had put them in previous years. They are only 7 and 9, but they had a clear sense of what went where. They rearranged things just enough to show their involvement, but basically repeated what they had seen in earlier years.
We saved the tree ornaments and lights for next weekend when we all go to Charlie Brown’s Tree Farm(the real name!) and cut a tree and buy wreaths for both of our houses. One of their dogs is still young enough to attack a tree, so ours will be the only one this year.
I was touched to the core by their kindness that day. They squealed with delight each time something they remembered was unpacked. They set all the musical decor playing at once knowing it made me crazy(but in a good way.) I ended up with a decorated house and my energy intact.
I don’t know who this man is, just a friend of my grandfather’s. He stopped by to show me a baby porcupine he had rescued and was caring for. He respects my hesitancy, even as he smiles reassuringly. After all, what little girl would want to approach a porcupine?
The kindness of strangers can be comforting in challenging situations, even if they don’t involve porcupines. At the doctor’s office yesterday, the new nurse went out of her way to make me feel at ease. She never said that I looked nervous; she just was consistently kind in her manner and warm in her countenance.
I am making it a point this Advent to focus on kindness I see in others’ small gestures. It can be someone opening a door, carrying someone else’s suitcase, or giving directions to a lost motorist.
There is a lot of quiet kindness going on around us if we stop to look for it.