She was out of breath. I heard the worry in her voice and couldn’t miss it displayed in all of her expressions. I almost felt like I needed to breathe for her. I would have if I could. I think I might have caught her off guard with my hearty “Hello!” The woman quickly admitted, “I was talking to myself!” But, sadly she seemed so perturbed during her Christmas shopping and our conversation that suddenly emerged.
I’d like to share a few recent observations. However, I will back up just a bit to explain.
First, I’ll say that I believe as Catholics, we are very blessed to be given a four-week period during the Advent season in which to prepare our hearts for the Nativity of our Lord, as well as for His Second Coming. Advent really has a two-fold purpose. We are called to be attentive, to “Stay awake” (Matthew 24:42, 44 and Luke 21:36), to be ready for the Nativity of our Lord, but also for His Second Coming. All, the while, during this season of hope, we should strive to carve out times for prayer and reflection so that our dear Lord and His holy Mother can transform our hearts.
Having stated that, I’ll be the first to admit that this being “attentive” and prayerful idea requires real effort on our part. It’s such a busy time of year and we can easily get caught up with the prevailing advertising frenzy, in trying to do too much, as well as becoming negligent in carving out enough time for our dear Savior.
That’s why I wrote my book Advent with Our Lady of Fatima. I hope and pray that it will be an aid for the Advent journey and a sure help to keep us on task, as well as to shield us from the bombardment of advertising commotion that can distract even sincere believers from preparation for the coming of the Christ Child. As well, hopefully it will be a help to get our lives in order to be ready for the Second Coming.
We do not know the time nor the hour for our own deaths or for Jesus’ return. It’s a bit sobering, isn’t it?
That time of year
I have been busy with my book writing and ministry and all it entails. I had some European speaking engagements, and right after Thanksgiving, I got hit with an unruly virus which knocked me on my back for a bit. So, just recently, I finally had the opportunity to get out of the house and go to a couple of department stores with Christmas shopping in mind. As I went along, I mentally took note of a few observations and conversations.
Shortly after I stepped inside the first store, I saw a woman that I knew whom I hadn’t seen in quite a while. Though she was shopping alone, she was talking out loud about some items on a display.
I greeted her with a hearty, “Hello!”
I think I caught her off guard, being so engrossed in her shopping. She looked up quickly. “Oh! I was talking to myself!” She admitted a bit sheepishly. I asked how she was doing. She didn’t miss a beat and immediately launched into a laundry list of reasons why it was so difficult to be shopping, stressing that she absolutely had to get it all done on that day. She was just about out of breath telling me. Listening to the worry in her voice and seeing it displayed in her expressions, caused me to almost try to breathe for her.
“Don’t worry!” I said, as if my feeble words would make a difference to her. But, I sure hoped that they would. “Try not to stress yourself out so much about it.” I added, “You’ll get it done.” I also tried to encourage her not to worry about doing so much. “Keep it simple,” I suggested.
Even though we both lacked the luxury of time, I ventured to ask her about her family. She began to tell me about each one, her body appearing to relax just a little bit more and she glowed with each blow by blow description of her family members. She then said something about not having any control over certain things and began to tense up again.
“But, we can pray,” I said, emphasizing the word “pray.” She acted as if she didn’t hear me and went on again about the lack of control. I repeated, “But, we can pray!” And, I smiled. There was a bit of an awkward hesitation. I had hoped that I didn’t offend her, but still, I felt a need to express it, especially knowing that she was a Christian.
Finally, my friend nodded meditatively. “Al—ways,” she unhurriedly told me, pronouncing each of the two syllables slowly. Then, she let out a big sigh. It was as if she suddenly remembered that, yes, she could pray! A smile began to spread across her face. I was pleased that our little conversation might have helped her to calm down a bit. I handed her my business card and asked her to get in touch sometime when things settled down. We bid our “good byes” and we both got back to our shopping.
A change for the better
The following day on a frigid morning, after Mass I stopped at the Post Office to get stamps for my Christmas cards. On my way inside, I observed a woman standing just inside the doors, peering out. It appeared that she was waiting for someone and wanted to be inside and out of the cold. Proceeding inside, I noticed just one single postal worker manning the counter. She was helping a woman in a red jacket. I was happy it wasn’t crowded and took my place behind the woman. A line of people quickly formed behind me. The clerk continued to help the customer and then her hand sprang out quickly to forcibly bang a few times on the silver desk bell on the counter.
She needed some help. That was for sure. The people kept coming in and getting on line. Certainly, the clerk must have felt a bit deserted alone up front on a busy Saturday morning just a couple of weeks before Christmas. Still, she continued on.
“Is she all they have working here on a Saturday?” The woman behind me called out to me quite loudly. Her face was a bit screwed up in dismay and disbelief rolled all into one. I shrugged my shoulders and smiled at her, trying to be quiet, so I wouldn’t add to the prevailing stressful mood. It reminded me of another Post Office experience a few years back. Right before Christmas, everyone in line at the Post Office seemed very stressed and complained about the long wait. At this time of year, fuses get shorter. Rather quickly, I might add.
Suddenly, an elderly man behind me started singing “Silent Night”! Out loud! It certainly pierced through the stressful ice. After a while, amazingly, others joined in song with him and peace miraculously settled in! Conversations suddenly began to ensue between complete strangers who had previously been upset with one another just because they were all in a mad rush to get up to the counter. To top it all off, at one point, the woman at the head of the line turned around to apologize for the wait, explaining that she was mailing packages to the service men overseas. Wow.
But, back to this story, the woman behind me in line who seemed so anxious began to breathe with heavy and loud sighs. She apparently needed to express that she was ridiculously upset waiting a few minutes in line. The loud sighing continued.
Meanwhile, the customer at the desk seemed nervous and flustered. She began apologizing to the clerk that her order was taking so long. It was finally just about complete and her credit card was in the machine. Everyone was watching and surely hoped they’d be moving forward. But, the woman had pulled her card out too quickly and the entire order was canceled. She told the clerk that she was “very nervous” about her credit card and apologized for her mistake. The clerk told her that she would need to start over again. Once again, big loud sighs emerged from the woman behind me. I was praying. Believe me! I was praying! The sighs continued.
Finally, the order was complete and the woman in the red jacket turned her head around to the folks in the long line. “I’m so sorry!” I was glad that she had turned around and said something because it gave me the opportunity to say something too.
“Don’t worry! It’s okay!”
As I bought my stamps, I chatted very briefly with the clerk about her son in the military. I made an effort to try to quickly get out of the way of “Miss Huff and Puff” behind me. I left the counter and took a couple of minutes out front, putting stamps on my Christmas cards to mail them before heading out into the cold.
Something beautiful for God
That’s when I saw something beautiful unfold.
“Are you waiting for someone?” The woman (Miss “Huff and Puff”) who had been visibly upset about the wait asked the woman standing just inside the door.
“I am going to catch the bus whenever it gets here.” The woman answered her.
“Where are you going? I’ll give you a ride.”
I was so delighted to see this act of mercy unfold that I said very audibly, “God bless you — God bless you for offering her a ride!” And off they went!
During this Advent season and beyond, can we try harder to be more aware of life as it unfolds and strive to live right within the present moments that we have? Too often we may miss beautiful opportunities to serve others if we are looking at our devices excessively, or are in such an oblivious rush that we neglect to serve those whom God has put in our path. If we pray, we can become more mindful of God’s holy will in our lives and the need to serve others with Christ’s love.
How will we engage with them?
When out and about at this time of year we are indeed bound to bump into friends and strangers. How might our dear Lord inspire you to engage with them? We might never realize what our simple loving smile or tender words can do to aid someone who might be feeling discouraged, depressed, or even despairing during this Advent and Christmas season. Our prayerful and loving presence can be a mighty reminder of God’s love, and even the need to get to church for someone who has been away.
As I recently told the friend I encountered at the department store, “We can pray!” After a moment, she responded, “Al-ways!” Yes, we certainly can pray always. Let’s not hesitate to take any issue — large or small — to our dear Lord and His holy Mother. As well, lets pray to “Stay awake” and try to become more attentive to the needs as they unfold around us this Advent and Christmas season as we open our hearts to God’s whispers to our hearts and souls.
I must mention that interestingly, while at the department store, I happened to pick up a charming little sign that said, “Pray often.” I was thinking of buying it. It was a sweet reminder to be prayerful. Then, as I made my way to the check out counter, I decided I didn’t need to buy it and I found a place to set it down between some stacks of clothes on display.
Afterwards, when I felt an urge to write down my recent thoughts and observations, I discovered the lovely “God-incidence,”as the memory of the plaque clicked in my brain. And, because I like to snap photos of the many things that catch my eye, I happened to snap a picture of that little statement to “pray often.” I’m glad that I did so that you can see it now!
Can we make our lives “something beautiful for God” as dear St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta had often suggested? Yes, we can, and we can also strive to pray often and pray always! Let’s make room in our hearts for our dear Lord and our neighbor during this beautiful season of expectant love and waiting.
As Mother Teresa had told me, “Do everything for the glory of God and the good of His people.”
Happy Advent and almost Merry Christmas!
Copyright 2018 Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle