The restaurant was bustling with holiday shoppers. Folks were standing in the doorway hoping to get a table. The air was crisp, cold and magical, lights were shining from every window – Christmastime in Boston. One could actually feel the surge of energy from the crowds shopping for treasures, stopping for dinner, or lining up for holiday traditions like the Nutcracker. I delighted in the splendor of it all, trying not to miss a moment of the magic which brought unabated joy to my grateful heart.
There are times in life when we simply take in the beauty all around us and willingly offer heartfelt gratitude and praise to God for the immense gift of the moment. This is how I felt on the evening of December 21, 2021 – my birthday – as I enjoyed a night out in Boston with my beautiful family. But then there are other moments in life when we are called to endure a more ordinary existence – devoid of glamour or overwhelming fun – and we are reminded to recall past moments of joy as a way to sustain us through life’s difficulties when perhaps we may not feel like thanking God for anything. Fr. Mike Schmitz of Ascension Press reminds us, “God’s providence is always at work – when we see it and when we don’t. As people of faith, we are challenged to always give praise to God.”
It was easy for me to be happy and feel grateful to God on an evening like my recent birthday, which was celebrated with love and style in Boston. But what about the rest of the year – when things are not as festive? Through the example of my beloved Mom, I believe that joyful memories can carry us through more challenging days when God’s presence may seem distant. Mom showed me that daily prayer during the normal days of life, helps us emerge stronger and more hopeful as women of faith. She used to tell me to make every moment count – the ordinary ones and the extraordinary ones saying, “Don’t waste time complaining, give thanks to God daily no matter what is happening in your life. He is always working things out even if you don’t understand it.“
I slowly walked up to a seated gentleman eating alone as we were leaving the lovely Boston restaurant. Shopping bags were piled high on the booth across from where he was sitting. I smiled at him and said, “Excuse me sir, I could not help but notice that you are sitting alone on this festive evening and I wanted to say hello and offer you one of my birthday cupcakes.” He looked at me with a warm smile and responded, “Thank you so much! I am alone this Christmas. I am a health care worker and went home for Thanksgiving – my family lives far away – so I am working this Christmas.” We chatted awhile about his shopping purchases, his family and the delicious food at the restaurant. As I walked away, he bid me Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas saying, “Thank you for taking the time to say hello. That meant so much to me. You have a beautiful family.” I nodded in agreement and wished him a Merry Christmas.
I cherish the days of our recent Christmas holiday, having enjoyed all the special moments and outings with my family. But “ordinary life” was lurking in the shadows and came knocking on our door a few weeks later. Like many people, my family received vaccinations for the COVID-19 virus. This evil disease has taken the lives of too many good people across the world and we wanted to do our part to help stop the spread of it. Unfortunately, we were recently exposed to the Omicron variant and three out of four of us living at home tested positive. (Gracie is happy that she’s in CT by now.) Thanks to our vaccinations, we have suffered only mild symptoms, but it has still been an annoying and uncomfortable period of time – something that we certainly had not planned! On the surface, one might offer anger and frustration at this situation because despite our best planning, we still got sick. But I know better after years of suffering with a debilitating back disease that it could have been much worse!
God, in His mercy, did not want us to get this virus, but he has walked with my family during our week long quarantine and we have been provided with everything needed to rest, heal, and emerge stronger than before. Of course we have had to adjust our schedules and our lives but we didn’t have to leave our home or go to the hospital. We have nothing to complain about! This period of convalescence has been a time to give thanks and praise to God for the gift of being together (again) and for the fact that not one of us got seriously ill.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the gentleman from the Boston restaurant during this COVID quarantine, praying for his good health as he cares for patients in the midst of a pandemic. Meeting him was a blessed moment which I have gone back to in my mind during some of my lower moments this week. I keep thinking about his courage and positive attitude. It took quite a lot to dine alone during the holidays. In addition, he was so pleasant and grateful – not bitter for having to work over Christmas. God is so good and has a way of reminding us of our blessedness. Through the example of this stranger, I was reminded of my many blessings. It’s funny how that works out. I sought to offer kindness to a lonely person and in turn, he has inspired me in so many meaningful ways during a more difficult time. I wish I could tell him that he’s helped me but God’s grace knows no boundaries and somehow he will know what a blessing he is to others.
In the end, we are called to always trust in the providence of God – during good and tough times. We must choose to see the many beautiful moments in our lives as gifts from God and give thanks and praise to Him. Then when the chips are down – as they sometimes will be – we must reach deep into the well of our souls and pull out these little gems of beauty to help propel us forward in faith until the next beautiful moment comes along – as it always will.