Things are certainly different this year, aren’t they?
Every Christmas I’ve had a tradition of baking as many cookies as I can to bring to the Friendship Room‘s annual Christmas party. The volunteers at the Friendship Room have noticed that most charities, understandably, get their Christmas giving over with before the big day so that all the volunteers can have a day off with their families. This makes Christmas a very lonely day if you haven’t got a family: particularly if you’re poor and homeless. So every year, they have a dinner with treats and presents at their house, on Christmas day, for anyone who wants to come. They even have a volunteer that dresses up like Santa. When the party is over, they drive down the street to the indigents’ nursing home and spend the evening caroling for the poorest elderly people. My contribution is to bring a tray of cookies on Christmas eve.
But this year, they can’t have their usual party and caroling.
Jefferson County is one of the worst counties in the country for community spread of COVID-19 and it’s getting worse every day. It’s illegal and dangerous to have crowds indoors at all right now. Homeless people are keeping warm on their porch under blankets. The party is canceled. They’ve already taken people’s Christmas lists and are handing out presents. They’re going to pass out food to-go and try to make the best of it, and pray for a better time next year.
Rosie and I have redoubled our baking efforts. We’re baking more cookies than ever, and putting them in individual decorated bags, so that the Friendship Room can pass them out to the homeless instead of having a cookie buffet.
I love to bake, so this isn’t any trouble. It’s pure pleasure. As soon as I knocked the snow off the very last of the broccoli and kale from our backyard garden, I started baking instead of gardening. I have to watch my junk food because of all my chronic illnesses, but I nibble a cookie or two and find homes for all the rest. I can’t even touch wheat flour because it gives my hands a rash, so I’ve made it my mission to make cookies that taste and chew like normal sweets out of gluten free flour. So far I’ve made four different kind of cake mix cookie using this recipe which is my absolute favorite. I don’t see that normies couldn’t substitute regular cake mix for gluten free. I used two boxes of vanilla cake mix for a double recipe in one mixing bowl and two boxes of chocolate cake mix in another, then divided the dough and made them into chocolate with white chip, chocolate with Heath bar and salted caramel chip, vanilla with chocolate chip and vanilla with salted caramel. I’ve also made Russian tea cakes, chewy gingerbread men, chocolate crinkle cookies, and I’m getting up and down to pull my white chocolate oatmeal cookies out of the oven every few minutes as I type this. I’m going to make at least one more variety.
Rosie and I will spend tomorrow morning packing the cookies into individual bags and then take them to the Friendship Room to give away. We’ll save a plate for ourselves and a plate for the Baker Street Irregulars.
I’m happier than ever this year to get to help.
This is a glorious truth I’ve been discovering again and again: The person God created isn’t a mistake. He made me on purpose and place me here, in this dark time, with the gifts He expects me to use to help other people, and I’m always thrilled to find out what they are.
I’ve been challenged to remember that truth in such a dark year. I’ve seen it manifested again and again, and it’s one of the things bringing me hope. I’ve been following the work of Miss Shirly Raines, whom I follow on Twitter. She turned to makeovers and hair color to give herself confidence when she struggled with anxiety after her son died. She was bringing some food to the homeless in her usual neon-colored makeup, when she heard them refer to her as “the makeup lady.” So she started bringing the homeless people makeup and beauty supplies to use. Then she got ahold of an outdoor hair-washing sink and started her own charity, Beauty to the Streetz, which provides meals, makeup, haircuts and hygiene to the homeless on Skid Row every week. They keep adapting to support the homeless in different ways during the COVID lockdown; you can support their work here.
I’ve been challenged by watching the struggle of my new online friend Amanda Martinez Beck, who is an author. She came down with COVID-19 in the fall. I was terrified to watch her from a distance as she deteriorated; she went to the hospital and then to the ICU and I assumed I’d never see her again. While she was on a ventilator in an induced coma, her family started a gofundme to pay for her treatment, and that immediately got found by some vicious trolls who used it as an opportunity to mock Amanda’s appearance. But Amanda got better. She woke up. She went to rehab to help her learn to walk again, and now she’s home. She’s back on social media being encouraging and wise to people. She has a real gift for saying life-giving things to encourage others. The other day she tweeted, “What if God isn’t asking you to lose weight? What if God is asking you to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly in your today body?”
When God created me, He wasn’t aiming for a cross between Barbie and Julia Child. He meant to make me. Not that I’m not flawed in any number of ways. We’re all born with original sin except Christ and Mary. But at the heart, a human being isn’t a mistake or a disaster or a teeming cloud of horrible flaws that God needs to cover up to make it presentable. A human being is a unique icon of God: beautiful, meaningful, valuable, with a certain wound that the fallen world imprints on us which only God can heal. People are not messes. People are good, in need of perfecting. We exist in the world so we can use our good to bless one another.
The person God created: that’s who I am, and that’s who God wants to do good in the world.
He wants me to do justice and love mercy, now. Right now. Not after I’ve stopped biting my nails, lost fifty pounds and gotten a face lift. Not when things are easier and we can have parties indoors again. Not when they discover a cure for my allergies. Right now.
The world needs the people God created, right now.
He needs you, now.
You, right here where you are, have a vocation to be light for the whole world. Not without self-reflection, not without the humility to realize that some of the things you do are sinful and you ought to be healed and do better. But you also have to have the humility to realize that some of the things you like least about yourself might actually be the very best gifts God gave you, to comfort and heal people. God made you you, for a reason.
Your talents, your random store of knowledge, the things you’re passionate about, even your weaknesses– these are not obstacles to the spiritual life. They’re the Star of Bethlehem. They’re the mysterious sign you should follow to find Jesus and serve Him when you find Him.
Jesus is shivering out in the street tonight, but somewhere out there is a person who loves to sew and crochet and knit. That person can make things to keep Jesus warm, because of this love. Somewhere there’s another person who loves to build things, who can help knock together a house. Somewhere there’s an organizer who has clever ideas on how to get people into housing quickly, and she’s going to work this problem out.
Jesus is lonely all by himself in a nursing home tonight. But somewhere out there is a person who is an incurable extrovert who’s constantly trying to find ways to be friendly with people even if there’s a pandemic going on and the normal means of visiting isn’t going to work. That person can let their passion guide them to set up zoom meetings or facetime with a lonely person, or write cards and letters, or even just sit outside the window and talk from a safe distance. Somewhere else is a person who’s setting up virtual caroling and Christmas concerts with the passion for music they’ve been cultivating.
Jesus is terrified tonight. But somewhere out there is a person who’s struggled with panic and anxiety his whole life, who battles that dragon on a daily basis. He knows what it’s like to have nobody to listen. He knows what it is to be thought of as a coward and a nutcase, and he knows the words that people who are terrified long to hear. He can go out and speak with Jesus, comfort Him, help Him feel safe again.
Jesus is starving tonight. But somewhere there are gardeners who can’t keep their hands out of the soil, and people who love to can vegetables for the winter. Somewhere there are people who just love to go shopping and plan meals. Somewhere there are brilliant cooks who know how to make things out of cheap ingredients. Somewhere there are organizers and planners who know just how to distribute needed meals to poor people even when there’s a pandemic and there can’t be a dinner indoors. Somewhere there are bakers and recipe bloggers and others who have talents and passions to make treats. And together, we’re going to feed Jesus.
No, you’re not perfect. Nobody is. Self-examination is necessary and important, and we should pray to the Holy Spirit to constantly point out the ways we need to be healed. But you’re not a mistake.
You are the person that God sent into the world to be heroic, in this dark and terrible age. You’ve already got what you need to make a positive difference. Look around, it’s there.
We can do this– not by ourselves, but by the grace of God. Not just at Christmas but all the time. Still, Christmas is a great time to start.
Now, let’s get to work!
Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross.
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