A few years ago, I wrote about a tough lesson I thought I had learned — a lesson that came from a very unexpected and unwanted experience during Advent.
My husband and I were busy decorating the house for Christmas over Thanksgiving weekend. We had big plans to get everything done just right so we could start entertaining and enjoying the hustle and bustle of the season. Everything was going well until my husband fell from a ladder as he was stringing up the outdoor lights. Suddenly, all of our usual plans went out the window as he needed surgery and lots of rest and recuperation for a broken wrist and bruises he sustained in the fall. Back then, I wrote about how it ended up being our most memorable Advent and Christmas. We had much more quiet time together and truly learned, or so I thought, every day to put our lives and our plans in God’s hands.
Some of us are slow learners. Here it is, only five years later, and I find myself again having to learn how to turn everything over to God. I had been busy preparing for my sister and brother-in-law to be with us this Christmas. It would be an especially meaningful visit, because it would be the first time my sister had been home for the holidays in years. She has been struggling with cancer and was finally able to travel again.
So off I went as usual, talking about the menu for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and planning get-togethers with friends and family so my sister could take full advantage of the visit. Just a few days into Advent, we received a phone call from my brother-in-law explaining that my sister had an accident in their home and had broken her right hip. She needed surgery and the traveling would have to be put on hold. So here we were again, faced with a very different plan for the holidays.
A few days later, I was lamenting the disappointing developments as I sat down to do my daily Scripture readings. The reflection in the Advent companion hit me like a ton of bricks. The writer explained how God is full of surprises. The reading from Isaiah spoke of how the age of the Messiah would be a wonderful time. As the writer explained, the Israelites had a much different idea of what that “wonderful time” would be or look like.
“When Jesus came, he accomplished wonderful things, but somehow everything didn’t measure up to those idyllic lyrical descriptions of the Old Testament prophets,” according to “The Little Blue Book: Advent and Christmas Seasons 2015-2016” (Little Books, $4). “And things still don’t fit perfectly together like I expect or plan. Consider this time before Christmas. It’s a time of planning and preparation and good intentions ... but things don’t always work out no matter how much or how well I plan. Happiness [and] fulfillment depend not only on how well I plan but also on how I trust in God and cope with the things I didn’t plan. God had other plans for the people of the Old Testament ... better plans. And God has other plans, better plans for me too. I just have to be open to whatever God wants for me.”
On the surface, one would think, “What could be better than a family reunited for the holidays celebrating the gift of life?” Right now, I don’t know the answer to that question. But I know that I continually have to remember to let go and let God. I have to recall the lessons learned in the past and remember that I still have an awful lot of learning to do. And finally, I have to remember that God is full of surprises, and that somehow, he will turn this experience — as he did with my husband’s Humpty Dumpty moment — into “better plans” for me, my sister and my family.
Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 130.