Mercy Me! A Recipe to Make Peace with Yourself and Family

by Kim Long

I am not a person who relegates ghost stories to All Hallows Eve and then puts them away for a year. I love a good ghost story even at Christmastide. Of course the path has been well paved with Charles Dickens who wrote of Ebenezer Scrooge and his eventual redemption.

Picture, if you will, a small child whose hand is firmly but gently caught in the hand of her mother on a small town street as afternoon gives way to evening and purple and deep orange skies seem to swirl around their feet. They are on the sidewalk in front of a store that no longer exists. The mother is young and vibrant as she smiles and speaks to a neighbor. Christmas trees are lined up like sentries against the walls of the store, stars begin to peep out with their own particular glow and the moon engages in its slow ascent in the sky. Christmas is coming, Christmas is being brought home and Christmas is falling on us like a gentle touch from a loving parent.

This is my favorite Christmas memory, one that time has altered very little. Memories fill this time of the year for me and for many. That memory evokes security as well as excitement, a cold evening and a warm home, a mother and a child, the Christmas Spirit all around us swirling and dancing with everyday chores until they seemed different somehow, no longer quotidian but unique and happening only at this time of year.

Our house smelled of the Scotch pine tree, a pot of stew on the stove and anticipation. Each year we would dress in our best clothes, long dresses for my sister and myself and a miniature suit for our little brother and join the rest of our family who were gathered at my grandmother’s house for a feast unrivaled and gifts wrapped in paper almost too beautiful and well creased to demolish. We returned to our house to await the spoils of Santa’s visit and eat cinnamon rolls for breakfast.

Memories are wonderful but only tell a part of the story. When the Christmas spirit was not at its peak, harsh words and unkind acts peppered our world and perhaps apologies were left late, in some cases too late. Wounds can run deep,  in some cases never heal  and destroy our future, even our future Christmas celebrations, magical as they are. My mother has long been in heaven so she can no longer be with me for a cup of coffee and a tearful conversation to “work some things out.”

In this year of Mercy we are reminded that we always have recourse. Too often with the penitential nature of Advent not being as focused as it is during Lent, I confess I don’t always attend that penance service or avail myself to the confessional. As I struggle to make peace with my past, as many of us do, this year, a year designated to remind us of God’s mercy, may be the best Christmas gift I could hope for. But I don’t want to trip as I look backwards. Lord lead and guide me as I learn to trust in You and as I attempt to walk in Your light. Help me take the best bits forward and offer them to You as I approach the stable.

Recipe for a Merciful Christmas
Make peace with yourself. Blend the tender forgiven self with family members loved and cherished. Gently fold in the love of the Holy Family for one another and keep it ever in your mind’s eye. Add some favorite memories of the past, but avoid the temptation to “make this Christmas just like it was when you were a child.” It won’t be, so don’t go there as doing so may curdle the mixture. Be open to new traditions with your adult children, friends, parish family and extended family. Attend the parish reconciliation service with an open heart and see it as a true moment for healing. Enjoy the lightness of actually laying down the painful burdens you have been carrying. Celebrate the reason for the season and don’t feel pressured to buy, buy, buy…..what we need has already been purchased. Bake some cookies, sing some carols loudly and, when no one is listening, sing for the joy of it all. Don’t travel too far from the stable. And lastly, remember that mercy extended is priceless.

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