Monthly Archives: December 2020

Faithful Food: The King Triumphant Comes

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By: Kim Long

I have always enjoyed Christmas music. “Christmas Times A-Coming” is one of the few bluegrass songs of the season. I love the words, the music, the happiness and security it evokes in me. Just as liturgical seasons have music reserved for that time alone, so it is in the kitchen when I am cooking for different occasions. When I make dressing for Christmas Day or gumbo for Christmas Eve I listen to bluegrass and this song is as much a part of the preparations as any of the other ingredients.

The song functions as a vehicle and I am transported to a happy time filled with family, food, and faith. Holiday seasons have as much ritual as anything else. If you doubt it just imagine a big Christmas dinner without a particular dish prepared by a loved one or the ceremonious retrieving of a platter that is used on that day or season alone.

In this crazy year 2020 has revealed itself to be, many of us long for the security and comfort of tradition – of something that does not change.

In the past few years since my own children are all “grown and gone” I have worked to minimize my “Christmas” footprint bringing out fewer decorations, watching my holiday menu becoming smaller, and generally attempting a simple version of the Christmases I have known. 2020 calls for more, not less.  I have always had a rebellious streak and I have tried to subdue, suppress, and subvert it. Not. This. Year. I plan to go whole “hawg”and fly  in the face of the isolation and loneliness this pandemic has brought me (and many others), as well as other changes we could never have imagined, most unwelcome and ill fitting gifts.  And while I may be unable to “return” it, I can work to transform it.

For an antidote I have made plans, lists, shopped for weeks-a little at a time, marshalled my recipes, gathered all my Advent and Christmas prayers and novenas. I am leaving no holly unpicked,  all seasonal and heartfelt prayers invoked, every package beribboned, and yes I may even wear, gulp, a Christmas sweater. And while I am doing all this I will not have a begrudged attitude, I will attempt joy and humor as I deck my own halls in an effort for not only normalcy but triumph! Although this is not a verse usually associated with Christmas I am adopting it as my motto-“this is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad.”

So friends, let our spirits soar. We  are assured by scripture, that nothing, not even a pandemic and its ensuing restrictions, necessary though they may be, can ever separate us from the love of God! Rejoice and be glad!

 

Maedy Spruill’s Peanut Butter Stix

Trim crusts from slices of bread. Cut bread into sticks or fingers and place on a cookie sheet to dry out in a 250 degree oven. You want them crisp but not brittle.

Over low heat, mix together 1 cup peanut butter (smooth not crunchy variety) with ½ c. cooking oil.

Dip dried bread sticks into mixture and drop in paper bag filled with graham cracker crumbs. Shake to coat and place on wax paper to dry.

Mary’s Mission: Celebrating with Jesus

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By: Mary Arcement Alexander

I love celebrating my birthday. Ask my husband, my family or any of my friends, and they will all agree that I celebrate big. My birthday is at the beginning of October, but I celebrate all month long. I know it sounds a bit much, but honestly, I love doing it because I am so grateful for every year God gives me. Imagine if Jesus was here to celebrate His birthday this month. Do you think He would celebrate all month long? Probably not. I have the feeling He would probably not want much attention and would hate having “Happy Birthday” sung to him at dinner while the whole restaurant looks on. I imagine He would intentionally be quiet that day so as not to draw too much attention. I see Him saying no to a birthday cake and yes to cookies for all the children. I see Him showing up at His party with dozens of gifts for everyone. I see Him smiling and laughing as children run about. I hear Him sigh sighs of joy and happiness. I feel the warmth of His hug as He thanks us all for coming.

Now, imagine that Jesus comes down from heaven and says, “(Your name), I want to celebrate my birthday with you. Just the two of us. What shall we do?” What would you say to Him? Would you want to sit at His feet and simply relish every moment with Him like Mary? Would you want to be like Martha and make Him dinner? Perhaps you are the adventurous type and want to take Him somewhere you have never been. I realize for some of you this kind of imagining may seem difficult or even silly, but I ask you to indulge me for a moment and allow your imagination to run wild. Give yourself permission to step outside of your comfort zone as you pull up a picture in your mind of this magnificent day with Jesus.  I want you to think big and in detail. Jesus, our Lord and Savior, has just requested you to spend this special day with Him. How do you feel in His presence? What does He look like in your mind? What kind of clothes is He wearing? What does He smell like? Perfume? Frankincense? How do you want to spend the day with Jesus? More importantly, do you feel worthy to spend this day with Him? I pray you answered yes to the last question, brothers and sisters, because even though you may not literally be spending the day with Him, He loves you big! He wants to spend every day with you because you are more than worth it. You are one of His greatest gifts.

When I imagine the two of us celebrating His birthday, I see myself both sitting at His feet like Mary, as well as doing something fun and adventurous together. As I sit at His feet, I cannot take my eyes off Him. His face is unlike any face I have ever seen, His eyes are the deepest shade of brown, they are warm and loving, and they captivate me. As I hold His hand, I feel the roughness of calluses formed after years of carpentry and other labor. I gaze at His skin, which is dark in color and lined from years spent in the sun. I hang on His every word and feel pure elation in my heart. I tell Him I want to end the day hiking up the mountains where we will find the perfect spot to watch the sunset. He nods in agreement for He too loves the mountains. He leads me as we move towards the mountaintop. I watch every step He takes and I carefully follow. Our conversation flows naturally and I discover that He has a sense of humor. This realization makes my heart smile, for I love to laugh and who better to laugh with than Jesus!         As we arrive at our final destination for the day, He finds the perfect spot next to a large rock where we both find rest. I sit next to Him and as He holds my hand, my entire body fills up with a peace I have never known. I rest my head on His shoulder and gaze softly at the most beautiful sunset. It is the perfect ending to the perfect day. Before I drift off to sleep, I whisper “Happy birthday, Jesus.” I ask Him if today was what He thought, and without saying a word He squeezes my hand and I feel the smile on His face. Yes, it was a truly magnificent day.

“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42

 

Mike’s Meditations: Do You See What I See?

Do You See What I See

By: Mike Van Vranken

Life is filled with layers of our constant waiting or expectation of the next coming of Christ. In Advent, we practice this waiting by remembering his coming as the infant Jesus, while, likewise, we anticipate him coming at the end of time. But because the kingdom of heaven is here, we also can practice waiting for him in the next person we encounter. Do we see Christ in that person?

On an unusually cold and windy Shreveport morning, I was shivering while driving too fast; eagerly waiting for the car to heat up. I exited the car as the police officer walked towards me, asking to see my identification, and politely requesting I take my hands out of my pockets. I handed over my driver’s license and car registration, and he asked me again to remove my hands which I had already put back in my pockets. Doing so, then without thinking, I put them back into my warm pockets, when he patiently asked me one more time to remove them where he could see them. Because I was cold, he had to ask me again and again.

As the title of this car was in the name of my employer, he asked if this was my car. I explained it was a company car that was provided for my work. He nodded and said he would give me a written warning and cautioned me to slow down. I was so happy and grateful I was not served with a speeding ticket.

The next morning, as I was thanking God for this kind and generous officer, he asked me if I am as kind when I encounter other people.  Do I anticipate the coming of Christ in other people?  In particular, God asked me if I try to see Christ in others. I felt he was calling me to put myself in the officer’s shoes and replay how I would act in this situation. Would I easily see Christ in the other person?  A flood of questions came to my mind and heart.  If I had pulled me over for speeding, would the scenario be different?

What if I was the officer staring at a different looking me?  A me that resembled my Lebanese mother with dark eyes, olive skin, a large nose and jet black hair. Or, my grandfather with all of these same Middle Eastern features and scraggly beard as well. Would I see Christ?

What if this Lebanese me was constantly putting my hands in my pockets?  If I was the officer, would I be in fear there was a weapon in those pockets?  Would I have pulled my taser after so many repeated calls to “show my hands?”  And how about the car that wasn’t mine?  Would I have demanded proof that the car wasn’t stolen? Would I have asked for verification that I indeed worked for this company?  More questions included: What if this person had a Hispanic or an Indian accent?  What if they were black or brown-skinned, or wore a hijab headscarf?  Would I see Christ in them?

As I continued trying to answer these questions in my conversation with God, I did wonder: “What did this officer see in me?”  What made him so comfortable and generous with a speeder who continually kept his hands hidden in his pockets and who didn’t own the car he was driving? Did he really see Christ in me, or was it something else that put him at ease?

Of course the deeper question is:  “What would I have done in his shoes?” Would I only be kinder and gentler to a person that looked just like me?  Would I have seen Christ in someone who looked and acted very differently than I do?  God, grant me the grace to see you in everyone.

So, let’s practice this throughout Advent.  Pretend that every day is a new, large Advent calendar waiting for us to continually open its doors to each and every moment. Behind each door, look for the coming of Christ in that particular moment. Then, at the end of each day, let’s spend time in an Ignatian Examen.  Not an examination of conscience; but an examination of consciousness! When, during this day, was I conscious of Christ’s presence in others?  When, during this day, did I not see Christ in others?  Like Bartimaeus, we pray for the grace that we might see.

We indeed want to be ready for Christ’s second coming at the end of days. And, we are anxious to celebrate his coming at Christmas.  This month, let’s also desire to gaze on him in the very next moment. Let’s be present to God as he continually asks us: “Do you see what I see?”

Christ is Always on the Side of Suffering

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We’ve been bombarded with mixed messages about what it means to be Catholic. We’ve had conversations that are uncomfortable and wondered if we are actually doing this whole thing right, given we have so many differing opinions within our own Church. It has become very complicated. It’s enough to make anyone’s head spin.

But if I had to explain to someone in one sentence or less on what it means to be Catholic, I would tell them simply, “Being Catholic is being with those who suffer.”

I wouldn’t tell them about this saint or that saint or this doctrine or that one. I wouldn’t tell them about fasting on Fridays or Lent or Confession. Because without solidarity in suffering, none of that means a thing. If you lose the love, all you have left is a club.

Jesus was always on the side of the suffering. Jesus always rooted for the oppressed, the beaten down, the underdog. We fight for the ones who can’t fight for themselves. We fight for the ones who are ignored, beaten, and chastised.

We all take turns being the underdog. Sometimes the Catholic is the underdog in a world that persecutes those who seek truth. Sometimes the underdog is the person rejected by  people within the Church, looking for truth, but ostracized because they don’t look or act like what we believe a Christian should.

The ones society has tossed aside, forgotten, or pushed away – standing in solidarity with them is what it means to be Catholic. You can say all the rosaries you want, you can listen to all the Christian music you want, but when it really counts, when someone needs your help, and you have the opportunity to either stand up or stand aside, that’s when you decide if you’re truly Catholic or not.

So if you’re confused, and you don’t know where you stand or the Church stands on an issue socially or politically, of where we need to direct our focus, direct to the ones who suffer. No matter the statements or opinions of those in authority, nor the politics of it all, nothing changes your ability to love. Your mission is unaffected. The mission to love and heal is unchanged.

Our Church is our home. It is our resource for our community and a tool to carry out Christ’s message to the world. She is our home base – our community we go back to for guidance and camaraderie. But it is not the only community we are responsible for.

The Seven Corporal Works of Mercy give us a tool to discern our mission:

   1. Feed the Hungry

   2. Give Drink to the Thirsty

   3. Shelter the Homeless

   4. Visit the Sick

   5. Visit the Prisoners 

   6. Bury the Dead 

   7. Give Alms to the Poor 

Just like the Ten Commandments, these instructions go far beyond volunteering at the local soup kitchen or visiting your friend in the hospital. (You should still do those things, but being Catholic, we always take things a step further.)

Ask yourself: Do I provide a source of  spiritual nourishment for my neighbors? When they are having a difficult time, do I offer to have them over for a cup of coffee  and give them my undivided attention? Or do I tell them “Sorry, I’m busy, but I’ll pray for you!” Prayers are great, but a listening ear is better.

Do I offer myself to be a safe haven for those who feel “homeless”? Feeling rejected or ostracized or without a place to call home? Do I ignore the social biases and sit with those that society rejects? Or do I wave them away, thinking, “I’ll just pray for ‘em”?

Do I check in on those who are sick and hurting? Do I offer a hand when they are going through a difficult time? Do I offer to drive them to an appointment or help them cook dinner when they’re too tired to move? Or do I stay away because I don’t want to feel like I’m bothering them? (Note: No one feels bothered when you drop off a casserole.

Do I reach out to those who have been abandoned, even when society tells me they’re a lost cause? Or do I reason, “They did it to themselves. It’s not my responsibility to solve other people’s problems”?

Do I bury the past? Do I let go of grudges and live in light of the future? Or do I hold on to the past, blinded to the hope of tomorrow?

Do I offer to pay for the meal, even when I’m not expected to? Do I throw a little extra in the collection basket? Do I offer my old clothes to charity instead of selling them on Facebook?

Do I consider these things daily? Or do I go to Mass on Sunday and call it a week?

Being Catholic is a daily commitment. It’s not a social club or a fraternity or something you do because you feel you’re expected to. It’s a challenge you say yes to every day. It’s the commitment to deny and humble yourself, no matter how uncomfortable it is. Because we only grow when our cages are rattled.

Suffering goes beyond what we see on a UNICEF commercial. The people we choose not to associate with for the sake of our reputation are also our brothers and sisters we’re called to serve – the people we socially exclude.

These are the people we forget or ignore because we don’t know how to love them if they aren’t living the way we believe is right. We are afraid to be the “judgy Catholic friend.”

We are here to sit and suffer with the suffering. Sitting with the suffering doesn’t mean fighting for their choices, it means fighting for their human dignity. It means fighting for their worthiness of love and their worthiness to be empathized with. Jesus taught this radical idea that each individual person, no matter their choices, their lifestyle, or affiliations, was utterly and undeniably loveable. No matter where they came from, they are a child of God.

The Catholic Church is where we learn to love, learn to heal, and learn to listen. It is paramount to our beliefs to love our neighbors, love our enemies, and love those who are different. The Church is such a powerful institution, but her power also lies in her humility. Her power is in her submission. Christ is not a king on a throne with a scepter. Christ is in the lowliest of the low, the humble, the meek, the suffering. He teaches us that we are undeniably loveable, despite our choices, despite our circumstances, and despite who we associate with. We are loved. And as an extension, we are called to imitate Christ. So, therefore, we are called to lower our heads and to love the unlikely without reservations.

As Catholics, we are called to be healers and listeners.  As hands and feet of Christ, we are called to be an embodiment of peace, mercy, and gentleness. We are here to foster and cultivate relationships regardless of background, status, or opinions.

We aren’t here to be right about everything – we’re here to be holy. We’re here to sit in the brokenness. We’re here to hold the hands of the people that are hurting.

So when you’re overwhelmed with the politics of the Church and the world and the need to be right, just remember where we came from and why we’re here. Remember what it means to be Catholic in the first place.

To be Catholic is to suffer. It’s to stand in solidarity with those who are abandoned and fall to our knees in humility. We are called to be humble, and if you need a little help with that (we all do), look to the right for Mother Teresa’s Humility List. No one said it would be easy. No one said you’d be recognized. No one said you’d be applauded. But we’re not here for that. We don’t just do it because we’re Catholic. We do it because we’re human.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

By: Kim Long, DRE

Happy New Year! Happy Church New Year! That’s right – it is time to turn the page and prepare anew for another year, another cycle of life and all that God can offer to us.

While many of us are still struggling to find a sense of normalcy in these unusual times, one of the gifts of our Catholic faith is a sense of ritual and tradition. These are important and never more so than today when many of us are casting our eyes all around searching for something which is familiar and comforting. The Advent wreath is one such gift. Many times I have placed it in the center of the dining table with little intentionality, my thoughts focused elsewhere. This year I consider the wreath and its offerings, its direction as it points us to the stable and beyond.

During these early, tender days of our new year, we begin preparations for celebrating the birth of Jesus the Christ.  Evergreens, long thought miraculous just by virtue of their existence, green in the dark and cold of winter, reminding us of eternal life and the candles lighting up that winter darkness. Simple elements combined, offering  a clear path for us.

With four candles, greens, fire, and prayer we light the way into the darkness brought on by the time change, changes in our world, and in ourselves. But we lighten up slowly, one flame at a time so that we grow accustomed to each bit of brightness by degrees. Our goal here is not to be “blinded by the light” rather to be guided and steered by it.  Many themes are given to each of the weeks of Advent. These are the four I have chosen to consider this year.

 

Week One Hope

“‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I hope in Him!’” Lamentations 3:24

During a long-ago Advent penance service as I stood in line to confess and lighten my holiday burden I realized, albeit too late to change lanes, that I was about to confess to the then Vicar General of the Diocese! I blurted out my one big terrible sin (along with a few lesser offenses) for I knew that without getting that off my chest and conscience I would likely miss the boat to Bethlehem.  My sin, unrecognized for many years, was giving in to despair. Like you, I know God is real and present, that He loves me. In my human frailty I couldn’t see, I couldn’t recognize hope. Fr. David helped and guided me through that awkward moment and I am still and forever grateful for that. This year I pray that I not only accept God’s gift of hope but that I offer it to others whenever possible.

 

Week Two Preparation

“A voice crying out in the desert-prepare the way of the Lord.” Isaiah 4:3 

In a moment of rebellion, I abandoned the practice of list-making, something I jokingly attribute to “growing up Baptist.” It was years before I retrieved this practice, years of being late, “discombobulated, and frazzled were the ensuing product. I have returned to the practice of listmaking grateful for its wisdom which I now see. While I am still not “Girl Scout” ready at all times in my sixtieth year I am getting there, becoming more prepared. Preparing means to be ready, willing, and able to tackle what comes into your day, week, month, with not only efficiency but with love and graciousness. This week I will consider how I prepare for the Lord, in my family, my job, and in the world, and I will pray to do it with wisdom and a sense of calm.

 

Week Three Joy

“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Proverbs 17:22

In the Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis,  we are given an amazingly accurate picture of human frailty. Lewis writes to humanity in the form of letters between uncle and nephew who just happen to be a demon and an apprentice. The older demon is directing the younger through the daily lives, both inner and outer, of the human condition. It served as a real eye-opener and with each reading, I have more of an insight into human weakness and my place in that scenario.

Several former pastors at St. Mary’s would begin Mass with a statement “God is good… all the time and all the time God is good.” This was spoken almost as an antiphon. It served as a reminder, whether we wanted to hear it or not, that in the midst of chaos God is in control. This year, knowing that it doesn’t all depend on me not only gives me a sense of relief but also a sense of joy which is always an appropriate garment with which to clothe ourselves.

This week, we light the pink candle representing the joy that our wait is almost over, that Christmas is just around the corner, and with it the unbridled joy of celebrating the birth of the love of God in the world. I pray that my vision is enlarged and I see joy where I could  not see it before.

 

Week Four Love

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but may have life everlasting…” John 3:16

I have to tell you, friends, this  verse is one of the very first scriptures I memorized as a child. And I must confess that I have not  reflected on it as it is written above in way too long. I am aware of it of course but to examine it, to sit with it, to feel the love of a gift freely given I have not done lately. Often at this time of the year, we are busy buying (or if you are into crafting-and I am- making) gifts for those we love. The most meaningful gifts I have ever received have been those which, when opened, revealed that the giver really knew me. In my life I have been blessed to have opened several such brightly and sometimes poorly wrapped packages. The trappings paled beside the offering. In week four, I shall turn my focus away from the trappings of the season and see the gift.

From the Bishop: December 2020

From the Bishop: December 2020

By: Bishop Francis I. Malone

We now enter into that time of year filled with Church and family traditions.  By the time you are reading this article, Thanksgiving with all of its traditions, even those that were modified due to the pandemic, are behind us.  Which leaves us having begun the season of Advent, anticipating the commemoration of the birthday of the Savior.

Christmastime has always been my personal favorite time of year.  Even from my childhood, no family celebration exhibited more joy than Christmas.  I grew up with our family embracing the Christmas time in its fullness – not celebrating too early – and not removing the visible signs of Christmas until the Feast of the Epiphany and the end of the Christmas season.  I can even recall the sadness I felt one December 26 when I was walking in our neighborhood and a family had already discarded their Christmas tree.

Most families I know have their own traditions.  And while it may seem strange in our commercialized world today, there were no signs of Christmas in the Malone family until December 24th – absolutely nothing.  The weeks preceding Christmas were filled with reminders that we were in the Advent time – a series of four Sundays in which we were reminded of the coming of Christ and preparing our hearts and souls for when He came. Once Advent arrived, our annual tradition was marked with cleaning the house, washing the windows, and making the house presentable for when Christmas arrived.  There was “glee” in our house on the morning of the 24th of December, when (and only then) signs of Christmas appeared:  our white Christmas tree and the lights and tinsel that decorated it, the string of lights stapled in the frames of our front windows, and the wreath on the front door welcoming visitors to our home.  There was the “smells” of Christmas, especially the Christmas foods that we would enjoy on Christmas day. Special attention was given to the mantel over our fireplace where the crèche was reverently displayed – even with all the other decorations in the house, the little statues depicting the birth of the Savior had center stage. And when all was said and done, the sound of the vacuum cleaner finishing off the last details of cleaning and readying.

I remember that it was early to bed on the 24th – a night we did not complain about going to bed, and the nervous energy of anticipating Christmas morn.  Magically, sometime between those early hours when we made our way to bed and the very early hours of Christmas morning, our house was filled with presents and toys and music and lights. And even though our artificial tree and our decorations were used and reused every year,  the sight of them appearing on the 24th was as if we were seeing them for the first time – what joy!!!

Now, those are all the visible signs of the season that celebrate the beginning of our salvation, but it was the custom of making a good confession before Christmas arrived, and without question, attending Mass on Christmas day that made everything perfect.

As your bishop, and this being my first Christmas as a bishop, what I want for you and for your family is a “perfect” Christmas in the spiritual preparation we undertake to prepare to celebrate the birth of the Savior, as if we were celebrating it for the first time.  As the days approach for His arrival once again, may your Christmas in this year of great troubles and concerns be filled with joy – and peace – and the awareness that Jesus is always with us, even and especially now.

A Return to Normalcy

A Return to Normalcy

By: Kierstin Richter, Editor

For nine long months, we’ve carried a weight that’s become heavier and heavier. We’ve waited in anticipation of when everything goes back to “normal.” Like Mary, as she carried her child, we’ve carried the weight of anticipation within us, unsure of what the next year would look like. For her, I’m sure she had her doubts. Honestly, I’m sure she was so scared. An unexpected pregnancy in a time without modern medical care when many women died in childbirth? In a time when you would be stoned for adultery, and you’re carrying a child who isn’t the biological son of the man you’re married to?

In addition to the thought of actual childbirth, Mary also had the thought of the new journey of motherhood in the next year, something she had never experienced, nor had she expected to come so quickly, I’m sure. What was her future going to look like?

Even when God tells you everything is going to be okay, we still have moments of fear – of apprehension and skepticism of the unknown. Even when we truly feel God has told us everything is going to be okay, and it’s all in His plan, we’re still human. We still have moments of doubt. But the dynamic nature of our faith is what makes it worth living.

Being scared doesn’t mean you don’t have faith. Being frightened of the future is a very human response. But the problem doesn’t come when you feel scared, it comes when you make rash decisions because of that fear. That’s not having faith.  The opposite of faith isn’t fear. It’s the need to be in control. Mary could have said no. Mary could have told God she wasn’t up for it, and she wanted a normal life for a normal girl. But if she wouldn’t have taken on this challenge, we wouldn’t have much of a nativity story, would we?

So what do we do in this anticipation of a new year? We take a deep breath, and we trust that this year has truly prepared us for anything. Whether things get easier or harder, it won’t matter, because regardless, we’ve built a faith that can carry us through anything. On the advent of this new liturgical year, we have a moment to rest. Anticipation can be exciting, but it can also be exhausting.

A lot has changed this year. We’ve found new ways of coping and new ways of living. We’ve lived in anticipation of a time where the world goes back to normal. But even for Mary, her long pregnancy may have been over, but that doesn’t mean things went back to normal. Her life changed substantially with this new baby, this new life.

But things didn’t go back to normal for Mary, did they? Her next year looked a whole lot different. And yeah, it was definitely harder, but wow, didn’t it make a heck of a story?