I hadn’t started Christmas shopping yet when Therese called and asked me to go with her to the Mall of America for Toddler Tuesday and we would share the fun of watching Liam in the stores, hit some rides and have lunch. I was really torn as I love to be with them but I had so much to do…
It was 25 years ago that I was diagnosed with breast cancer at Thanksgiving time and started the rigorous rounds of chemotherapy soon after. We had moved to the Cities in August and I had just begun working at St. Jude of the Lake Church. I hardly knew anyone in the area and was absolutely overwhelmed by the generosity of people I didn’t even know. One parishioner sent me the largest Christmas Poinsettia I had ever seen. They filled the refrigerator with food and brought Christmas cookies, drove me to appointments and sent cards that tumbled out of the mailbox every time I went to it. The doctors and nurses went out of their way to make sure that I was comfortable and patiently answered every question. They never seemed too busy to listen to my stories and I must have rambled on in my usual style. God bless them.
I remarked one day to the pastor, “How will I ever pay them back?!!” He responded, “You won’t, because they needed to give to you. You must learn to be gracious, receive their gifts and say, “Thank you.” I am still learning how to do this.
We love Christmas because it seems to bring out the best in us. Even Ebenezer Scrooge, the stingy old curmudgeon, redeemed himself by giving generously in the end. But Dickens shouldn’t be teaching us the lessons of Christmas when St. Luke has given us the best one from the manger.
In this beautiful story we become the receiver of God’s generosity, not the giver. We could not match this gift from God no matter the amount of money we spend, the advanced degrees we earn, the magnificent songs we sing or the amount of service we offer. As William Willimon states, “God wanted to do something for us so strange, so utterly beyond the bounds of human imagination, so foreign to human projection, that God had to resort to angels, pregnant virgins, and a star in the sky to get it done.”
With God’s generosity, I have received these 25 healthy years to enjoy my families who delight me and fill my life with band concerts, dance tournaments, choir concerts and a pre-school program with an angel who got lost and needed his grandmother to lead him to the steps and put his halo back on. I am grateful.
They bring joy to my life when I listen to the future plans of my four older grandchildren as they talk enthusiastically about graduating from U of M pharmacy school, marketing running shoes, choosing the right engineering school and trying to beat an older brother’s cross country records at every turn. I am grateful.
I need to thank a second grade boy in the faith formation class who reminded me that a compliment must be received generously. I was following a group of squirrely little boys down the hall to the cafeteria for a program on a Wednesday evening. There was a child from another class who said, “You smell really good.” I was pleasantly surprised by the compliment from someone so young and said, “Thank you. That was really nice of you to say that.” Then he added, “…just like my grandmother.” Now that took a little wind out of my sails at first but then I started to smile. As I reflected, he really was giving me a great compliment because he must have loved his grandmother very much to say that. I am grateful.
As Regional Director of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, I am thankful for the generosity for all those who take on the ministry of the IVC. These wonderful men and women give countless hours to bring relief and hope to those less fortunate than we are in the non-profits of the Twin Cities. Once a month their reflections amaze me as they tell how much they receive rather than give to those who have so little. In turn, they gift me. I am grateful.
I have a remarkable IVC Regional Council that put together two amazing events with James Martin, S. J. and Chris Lowney that not only introduced others to the work of the IVC volunteers, but raised the awareness of the Jesuit presence in the Cities. They also learned about the many service agencies who welcome those who are poor and vulnerable into their programs. Thanks to them, the generous donors and my daughters, we were able to raise a fair amount of funds in the process. I am grateful.
If I have learned anything from the Jesuit priests in our midst and our beloved Pope Francis, it is that we need to take time to slow down, take a deep breath, and listen to a God who is waiting for us. God has gifts that we didn’t know we needed, and can transform us into people we never thought we could be. As Willimon said, “God is calling us to see ourselves as we really are, empty-handed recipients of a gracious God who, rather than leave us to our own devices, gave us a baby.”
I think I’ll invite Liam over while his mother shops.
Kathleen Groh is the IVC Director of the Minneapolis/St. Paul Region. She has been a lifelong religious educator, published three books and considers her role as a grandmother of eight one of her most important ones.