“One day in Gubbio, a woman with severely deformed hands ran up to St. Francis. “Just touch them!” she pleaded as she raised her misshapen hands to him. Francis clasped her hands in his, gently moved his fingers over hers, and she was healed. What do you think she did next? What any Italian woman would do. She used her restored hands to cook. She went off and baked a cheesecake for Francis. He ate some of it and sent the rest back to her family.” —From Mystics and Miracles by Bert Ghezzi
I called my mama’s cell phone on Christmas morning to wish her and my papa love and merry and sweet memories for their celebrations of the Baby’s birthday. She happened to be at the corner store picking up a few grocery items she’d forgotten to purchase for the banquet they were preparing for all their misfit friends, i.e. homeless and mentally ill.
On a day when most people gather with family and other familiars to drink eggnog with good cheer and eat star-shaped sugar cookies next to a warm fire and twinkle lights, my mom and dad had plans and a guest list that left something to be desired…
Or did they? And does it?
The table was set for seven:
Ralph is small in stature, 50-something years old, has hands that incessantly tremor and only one eye due to an accident involving a fork and his brother. Nowhere on earth is his real home, but when the sun goes down he sleeps in an abandoned house where he slides an old refrigerator over the door to bar himself in. A week before Christmas he was severely pistol-whipped for the 20 bucks he’d made panhandling that day and when my mama finds him in the hospital she speaks her sorrow over his aches and agonies. Contrary to how most people would respond in a similar situation, Ralph tells my mom: “I feel so blessed because Jesus made something good out if it!” To him, it was a miracle to spend seven days at St. Josephs Hospital where he could take a shower anytime he wanted (cleanliness matters to him very much; he doesn’t like to smell) and receive three meals a day (no one enjoys being hungry).
He was released just in time to arrive at the Yuletide feast. The next day he left a voice message saying how grateful he was to my parents for the food and t-shirts and socks they bought him and he wanted them to know how often he prayed to Jesus on their behalf.
Stanley has nervous gestures, salt and pepper afro-like hair and a jutting jaw with big buck teeth that add a childlike look to his elderly face. He’s somewhere between the age of 60 and 70…he admits to losing his mind and isn’t specifically sure of his exact birthday. Sometimes he says he’s a 24 year old college student, but his wrinkles tell a different tale. He’s the anxious kind, the sleep-on-a-concrete-slab kind, the eat-and-run kind and he held his head down while muttering to my mom: “Why are you having me over, again?” And my mom responded with a smile that can’t quit and four of the most precious words ever announced in the known universe: “Because you’re my friend.”
Crystal and Josh are in their late 20’s, an unlikely pair just trying to hold onto a shred of dignity in the midst of their mental health battles, in the midst of their extreme lack, in the midst of living on a planet that feels to them like a sucker punch in the face. Crystal is an open book, talked about her depression and pockets full of pills and how she wants to lose weight and quit smoking. Josh is fearful of everything and everyone and barely speaks at all, takes the prescriptions to numb the pain.
Tony is an old guy who got a young Rita pregnant and they didn’t end up making it to dinner.
My mama isn’t a regular person, she’s a stranger in an increasingly strange land. She doesn’t want what most people want and is uncomfortable with mainstream pursuits and passions. She is the only one I know in my whole sphere of relationship who actually goes to the gutter to invite people into her home for the holidays and proceeds to make a Martha Stewart experience for the dead broke and back busted, like they are the real royalty. You should see her hands and the way they serve, how her arm muscles move when she kneads dough for the hungry.
My mom has a lot of rubber on her road because she doesn’t just talk about good works and good ideas, she goes to the razor edge of her comfort zone and takes a risky headlong dive into the unknown. Kingdom come is her anthem, a full-bodied chorus ringing between her rib bones; making heaven come to earth is the only way for her not to feel like such an exile.
(She has an instantaneous and uncanny capability of looking into a person’s features and detecting an actual image of the Divine.)
A lot of people have hypothesized about the first Christmas, but I’ve never read a single commentary saying that the Bethlehem Baby was born in a clean and sweet smelling barn and it gets me to wondering: Maybe He came dirty and messy and self-humiliating as an invitation for us to follow Him by doing likewise with our own Christmases?
I mean, aren’t those His own words?
Not “Follow me when you feel like it or if you feel like it or as your schedule allows”.
It was and is simply “Follow Me” and here I’m preaching to yours truly; trying not to bore myself with the un-truth; fighting the lies and fears that keep me under the low ceiling of comfort and safety…fighting the lies and fears that keep me sane when I should be going off mad like grace or gunpowder.
(If the world is sane, then make me psycho.)
The world is wide open, a yawning chasm waiting to be filled with love like the hands and feet and warm blood of Jesus–that would be us. Losing yourself makes you grow.
What better way to celebrate the Baby than by reproducing the mess into which He was born?
Maybe instead of having the perfect Christmas plans, we go instead to the stable and give birth to a festive occasion that welcomes chaos and unpredictability, odor and dirt and discomfort.The presence of holiness appears to favor inauspicious events.
In the economy of an upside down Kingdom the gutters are the real palaces and the toothless vagabonds are the real princes, while the rich go begging for Bread.
Look up to the “poor”.
Let them touch you instead, maybe we are the ones in need of healing.
And have yourself an imperfect little [next] Christmas.
Image credit —> Stalker Eye