Let yourself be embraced by God

As I parked my car the radio was playing the song, “The Little Drummer Boy.” I walked towards the chapel. I paused at the crèche. I imagined the drummer boy there along with the three wise men and the shepherd boy. The freshly-fallen snow blanketed the animals as well as the straw awaiting Baby Jesus. I thought goodness fellows, a little trip to the marketplace would have been good. How about a gift of a blanket for the Baby? I paused to reflect and imagine the wise men who had traveled so far to meet the One they believed was destined to change the world. They must have thought to themselves that this stable is not what I expected for a newborn King.

I remembered one time as a teacher where I told God that this was not what I had expected. This was years ago when I taught a college level “Basic Skills in Chemistry” class. I began the semester by asking each student to introduce himself/herself. Maybe it was the freshly-fallen snow that made us feel like explorers gathered to chat. 

Each student invited me into his/her life by sharing what he/she hoped to do. My attention was drawn to this one woman who was nearing the end of her naval career. She declared that she had never taken algebra or even any college preparatory classes. The idealist in me battled with the realist. Her dream seemed unattainable for one with that background. 

That first night of class I stayed for a long time afterwards for a private lesson with her on graphing. She had missed the last bus. I drove her back to the base. She left with the homework graphing assignment I had hand-written for her during that extra session. 

The story is really about the lessons she shared with me. Before the start of the next class she handed me some sheets. To my great surprise the extra assignment was completed to the 100 percent level of understanding. That night, the teacher in me received a reminder about the importance of suspending judgement so as to be open to guiding a student as far as she could go. 

Next, she returned to her seat whispering, “Yes, I can do this.” There was happiness not pride in her voice. Her tone was of quiet assurance that with continued hard work she could and would attain her dream. Her conviction and strength of character were amazing. That moment has stayed with me all these years. I was privileged to witness someone else’s new beginning.

Many times at the Catholic high school I would ask my students how they recognized or felt the Holy Spirit acting in their lives. Together we decided that we felt the Holy Spirit when we do what seemed to us impossible or feel lost yet somehow find a way of helping someone. Taking their imagery a bit further, it is when the Good Shepherd has embraced us that we recognize the Holy Spirit carrying us. As Pope Francis says, “It is precisely when we experience our own limitations and weaknesses that the Holy Spirit comforts us. Our weaknesses help us understand what is most important. We must allow Jesus to lead us into His Father’s arms.”

In some ways there is a timelessness to Christmas and the New Year as we try to remember the past while looking ahead. We remember projects begun with such high hopes. Many times we will find we faltered along the way due to lack of effort, doubt, or extenuating circumstances. Some years we will catch ourselves thinking of our lives: this is not what I expected.

That thought is God’s invitation to seeing and finding a new place to be. This is where those wise men and that student can be role models for us. Each of them was someone who looked to the future open to God’s plan in God’s time. When they examined where they were in life and what they truly wanted, there was a new part of themselves or even a new place for them to explore. They were willing to go where the Holy Spirit led. 

The story does not end with that student achieving her dreams. A few weeks into the semester, her ship was called to active duty. Where she is in her journey is known only on God’s side of the tapestry. For me, she will always be a reminder that with God all things are possible.

Alice Mackenzie Swain said, “Courage is not the towering oak that sees storms come and go; it is the fragile blossom that opens in the snow.” There is an exquisite treasure in each and every flower tenacious enough to brave the elements to open and share its essence with the world. Let’s each lean into God’s embrace as we explore our new beginnings.

Anchor columnist Helen Flavin is a Catholic scientist, educator and writer and a member of St. Bernadette’s Parish in Fall River.

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