Ella giggled and squirmed in her chair as she waited for Santa to call her name. Adorable with her candy cane headband and cat glasses, she clapped her hands excitedly as names were called one by one.
“Nathan! Is Nathan here?” Santa joyfully bellowed. Nathan jumped up and ran up to Santa. Santa gave a hearty, “Ho Ho Ho” as Nathan jumped into his lap and gave Santa a huge hug. The room was filled with appreciative laughter.
Every year, the Broadmoor Rotary Club celebrates Christmas with children who have special needs. Some are brought up hand in hand with their caregivers. Some visit Santa from their wheel chairs. Other, like Ella, wait impatiently for Santa to recognize them.
“Ella? Where is Ella?”
Ella jumps up, “Here I am!” the joy on her face is exquisite, her bright eyes magnified by those pretty, but hefty cat glasses.
Each child receives a toy especially picked out for him or her. While they smile with glee at their new present, the happiness of the gift is dwarfed by the joy the children show as Santa recognizes them by name.
Can you imagine the child who was chastised that morning for not doing as they were told? Or the child who was too loud, or too chatty? What added joy they must have when Santa recognizes them despite their transgressions! This is the joy we feel at Christmas time. That, despite our worst selves, we are loved by a God who happily gives us the gift of daily life.
The third Sunday of Advent is a celebration of JOY, as we anticipate the birth of Christ. The first reading from the Prophet Zephaniah starts:
Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel!
Be glad and exult with all your heart. The Lord has
removed the judgment against you…The Lord is in
your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear. (Zep 3:14-15)
What the children learn from Santa is what Christ wants us to know about life: we are loved regardless of whether we squirm in our chair, or shout out the answer before we are called on. Our joy comes from the recognition we are loved no matter what.
Last month, my dear friend Ruth suggested I read Frank Ostaseski’s book, “The Five Invitations”. Frank was an integral part of the Zen Hospice Project in Northern California. His book speaks about the lessons learned while working for hospice. One thing he says, is that joy is found when we lower our defenses, and allow ourselves to experience the fragility of life and the inevitability of death. The children’s presence at the Broadmoor Rotary brought out the joy of Christmas in all of us, as we dropped the mantle of adulthood, to see the world from the vulnerability of children with cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome, or autism. Ostaseski writes:
We may imagine that the tension and holding we have used to forge the
armor around our hearts will keep out the pain, making us invulnerable.
Instead, our armor cuts us off from love, dulling our sensitivity, steeling us
to our experience, and locking out the tenderness, comfort, mercy, and joy
that we need.*
Seeing joy at a Santa party is relatively easy, but experiencing joy or even peace at the end of life takes mindfulness. For peace and joy not only exist in the pleasant times of life, they also can be found in times of trouble, grief, or sadness. Joy and peace are brought forth from the calm places within the heart; they are not gifts received from others, or missing from times of struggle. Joy and peace are felt when the Spirit of Love is allowed to break through from the depths of our souls. Ostaseski says,
When we take care of someone we love and do it with great integrity
and impeccability, when we feel that we have given ourselves fully and
completely to our grief and didn’t hold anything back, then we will surely
feel great sorrow. But also we will feel gratitude and the possibility of
opening to a reservoir of joy and love that we may have never known
before. I call this undying love.*
As we approach Christmas, let us feel the joy and peace that our spiritual lives bring. If you are a caregiver, remember the words of St Paul to the Philippians:
Rejoice in the Lord always. Your kindness should be known to all.
The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer
and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard
your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:4-7)
AKOTA Home Care wishes you childlike joy, a peaceful night of caregiving, and all the blessings of Christmas.
*Excerpt From: Frank Ostaseski. “The Five Invitations.” iBooks. https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-five-invitations/id1146508251?mt=11