Of parenthood and childhood

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During Advent and Christmas we accompanied Joseph and Mary through uncertainty and hope to the little town of Bethlehem, through a silent night of anxiousness and joy away in a manger. We wonder, as we wander, what child is this whose parents flee to an unknown land, and what star of wonder, star of night lead Three Kings traversing afar to behold an unknown infant king?

When we truly unwrap the Christmas story, we discover stillness and peace amidst the uncertainties and unknowns – from life’s beginning to its end, from the Holy Family to our own. The infant holy, infant lowly that we came to adore does bring true joy to the world.

This parallels my continuing reflections on “Navigating with Faith Perspective,” understanding “openness to life” not only in light of fertility but encompassing how and where God is calling us to co-create with him across all realities and stages of family life.

My husband, children and I were blessed to spend Thanksgiving celebrating my Grandma Joyce’s 90th birthday. It was priceless to watch the interaction between her and each of my children. But the real jewel is, and has been for a decade, to watch my mom and aunt work through trying circumstances to best care for her and my grandfather, who passed in 2014.

Care that has taken different forms and varying levels of personal commitment. Care that has required self-sacrifice and struggle, but also rewarded with deep satisfaction and healed family relationships.

I have witnessed this respect and honor with more than one set of parents and grandparents. Reflecting on my own family tree – with its multiple trunks and intertwined species of religiosity and political views – I am struck by the common roots of unconditional love and support of a strong sense of family.

Unlike the science behind natural methods of regulating fertility, there’s not much to lean on when it comes to planning and preparing for the needs of our family members as they age or encounter unexpected illness.

In actuality, the decisions a couple makes regarding when and how many children they have has little in common with the scope of commitment one is asked to make to one’s parents: living situations, medical care, financial concerns and moral support that likely increase over time, and often coincide with a new stage of needs and support needed by one’s own children.

I doubt anyone reading this paper would dispute the transcendent vocation of parenthood, to prepare young hearts and minds to help make the world a better place. But how often do we think about the calling to accompany mature hearts and minds as they pass on to the eternal, and best, place?

How do we appreciate and value the opportunity to learn humility through our elders’ increasing dependence, so opposite the values of independence and self-sufficiency we strive for most of our lives? How do we show unconditional love as aging and illness strip our family members of the productivity and activity that has defined them for decades? How do we learn to just be there when no words can console, no action instill peace needed to embrace the path ahead?

How can a faith perspective help us navigate these uncertainties and unknowns?
Harkening back to the Christmas mysteries, I believe God invites us to reflect on the same Scriptures that inspired trust in Joseph and Mary and moved them along paths they had not seen coming, that most frequent command to “be not afraid” that echoes from the Old Testament to the New.

Mary and Joseph had many reasons and many circumstances to fear, yet we see them acting in trust and God faithfully providing for them. God didn’t ask them to set reason aside, but when things didn’t make sense he did ask for their surrender in faith, which, courageously given, allowed them to fulfill their irreplaceable role in salvation history.

And that is what he often asks of us – at every stage of life, one day, one step at a time.

May we start out this New Year asking Mother Mary, who was present both at Christ’s birth and death, to accompany us and help us find peace of heart as we discover God’s call this year to be fruitful and participate in his loving plan of peace on earth and goodwill to all.

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