Why Were You Gone So Long?

Why Were You Gone So Long? December 19, 2016


There was a hard frost outside this morning.

All the puddles from the weekend’s rain were not only crusted over but frozen solid, thick and unyielding as marble. Frost covered each blade of the overgrown grass, even though it was late morning.

Before breakfast, I made a phone call. I made an appointment for my daughter, Rose, for her yearly checkup and shots. I’m told we may lose our healthcare in the coming years; at any rate, thousands likely will. I’m told that this is pro-life, that thousands will not be able to go to the doctor for a checkup or when they’re sick. I’m told that it will prevent abortion. But my five-year-old doesn’t want an abortion. She doesn’t want a shot either, but she understands shots will keep her from getting sick, for now. She understands that I’ve promised her one toy from the Dollar Tree for every shot she gets, if we can afford it that week. She’s pleased by that. She likes the jigsaw puzzles with pictures of Superheroes.

I made her breakfast, next. Rose asked for pancakes. She and I are allergic to wheat gluten, and gluten-free flour is expensive, so pancakes are a treat, but she asked so politely I agreed. I cooked them for her; I sat her in front of her television show. I left her father watching her, and went to run errands on the bus.

It could be that things will get harder in the coming years. My illness is always changing and I might not have the strength to stand up and cook. My allergies might change, and I won’t be able to handle any grain at all. I’m also told that times might become difficult, economically and socially; there’ll be another recession or worse. Of course, others say there won’t be. Others say that housing prices will go up and we’ll all have lucrative jobs under the new president. I don’t know about that. Nobody in the Ohio Valley has lucrative jobs; the rest of the country rides on economic bubbles that boom and burst, but here we only burst. The floor falls out, and we find ourselves deeper in the dark, but there’s always another floor. Something to land on and break, not something to break your fall. Then the floor itself breaks again.

It might be that we won’t have flour in the cupboard, someday. We have it today. I can give that to her, today.

On the way out I hear some of the news. A relic of blood somewhere in Italy failed to liquefy on the liturgical day when it usually does, and I’m told this is bad news. It could be a sign that we’re in for a difficult year. An ambassador was shot in Turkey. I’m told this is worse; this is how world wars get started. It could be we’re on the brink of another world war. It could be another war has already begun and we’re too foolish to see we’re in it.

I take the bus to Wal Mart and the mall. I check the times, to see when Santa will be sitting for visits. Rose still believes in Santa. Next year, she may not. But this year she wants to see him. I can give her that this year.

There’s a store closing at the mall. No one wants to have a business open in the Ohio Valley right now. I get some discount DVDs, one for me and one for Rose.  I can give her that this year. Next year, the store will be closed. I go to Wal Mart and buy a toy for Santa to bring, for Christmas. A friend already bought presents for her, knowing how poor we are, but I wanted to get one thing myself. I can do that this year. Next year is always a mystery.

I don’t know what’s about to happen. I never do. This is the human condition, but so often we’re in denial. We think that things are within our control; that we can make things better and keep times from becoming hard.

Often, we can’t.

Right now, I see that I can’t. I see that nothing is within my control.

I see that my vocation is to live well, now, and to do what is mine to do, now, regardless of what happens next. I see that my vocation is to love my daughter, to cook her breakfast, and to try to get her her checkups and shots. My vocation is to take the bus to the mall and see what time Santa will be there. My vocation is to buy a toy and hurry home to hide it until Christmas.

My vocation is not to fear the days to come– but if I fear, if I suffer, if I die, in the course of doing what God wishes me to do, then these are part of my vocation.

I am not called to be successful. I am not called, myself, to stop assassinations or prevent wars, or to make a relic liquefy on a certain day. I am called to love my daughter and my husband. I am called to love as sons and daughters, brothers and sisters,  whoever God sends to me. I am called to cry out against injustice when I see it, no matter what the consequences may be for me,  but not to despair in the face of injustice. I am called to share some of my bread with the hungry, when I have any bread. I am called to intercede, to trust, and to wait.  I am called to live in Christ until the time comes to die in Christ.

This is the way it’s always been. Now, I can see it more clearly.

My vocation is to be myself, in Christ, whether it freezes or thaws, whether the blood liquefies or not, whether we live or die. I’ve wasted too much time in fear. I’ve attended to what is not mine– not in intercession, not in crying out against injustice, but in worry. I’ve strayed from what was mine to do.

Rose was impatient, when I got home. “Why were you gone so long?”

We sit down and make Christmas crafts together– she dabs the glue on badly cut green felt tree shapes, and I place sparkling plastic gems in each spot. Later, we’ll hang a strand of Christmas lights on the porch.

Whatever may happen later, this is my work for today. This is my vocation.

(image via Pixabay)

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