I became an avid letter writer during my teenage years–so much so that I had as many as 60 pen pals at one point in 10th grade. Excessive? Er, yes. (And clearly I haven’t recovered. In the past three years I have written a grand total of three letters. Count them: three. That’s one per year.) Every year after Christmas my various pen pals and I would write one another long letters including ridiculously detailed lists of the gifts we’d received. I still groan with boredom remembering the reading–and worse, the writing–of those letters: “I got the C.S. Lewis Space Trilogy, some hair clips, a baking set, a DVD…”
But it occurred to me last night during the midnight Mass that it’s time to write another list of gifts. Not what I found under the tree this morning, but the many unexpected gifts I’ve been given this year. You see, my attitude this December has done a complete 180 on last year around this time. I opened 2011 telling myself, “This is the year I end up truly–finally–abandoned.” I had nothing to look forward to except the people I loved most leaving me: my sister’s wedding, a best friend moving away from the area for good and several other friends possibly leaving as well, and my two favorite co-workers taking off after new opportunities. I slumped into a miserable, months-long pity party.
It seems no matter how long I live, I will never fully wrap my mind around this truth: when the Lord takes away, He also gives in abundance. I tend to fall in love with things–hard–so that the idea of losing them breaks my heart, and I forget that all things must come in their season…and then go again. And that it is good for it to be that way.
But here are my top 10 favorite gifts from 2011, just a sampling of the things I’ve been carrying to God in really thankful prayer:
1) A wonderful new roommate (and friend)
2) A roomy house right near my parish church…and my own bedroom, for the first time since I was 18 years old
3) Many opportunities to gather friends old and new together for dinners, parties, or fireside chats
4) Many more opportunities to make new friends
5) A new co-worker who happens to be also a) an old acquaintance and b) a new friend–and the best daily Mass buddy there is!
6) A nephew on the way!!
7) Continued development at work, in ways that have surprised me since they were subtle, unexpected, and certainly not part of “the plan”
8) The development and growth of this blog, as well as other writing projects
9) Deepening several old friendships and learning to delight ever more in their company
10) A new spiritual director
I know already that 2012 may very well see the loss of certain of these goods. Their season will pass on, and others will take their place. I already know that some of these passings will cause me quite a bit of pain, and I accept that. Because perhaps the greatest gift of this year has been the realization–and the acceptance of the realization–that all these things are and must remain outside. That at bottom, always, the greatest gift, the only gift, is God himself, and all other gifts simply point us back to him.
The child in the manger at Bethlehem blinks out on the world, a visible sign of God’s constant pleading with each one of us: Let me be your joy.
I wish all my readers abundant blessings and overflowing joy in this season. May you know the gift of God.