In prior years, I've posted about my slightly insane collection of nativities. Some people collect books, some people collect coins, and still others collect Funko Pops (no judgements, Pat). Me? I collect nativities.
Now when I say "Nativity," I'm not just talking about the full stable, shepherds and wisemen. I also include those pieces that are Joseph and Mary cradling baby Jesus. Basically any statue, painting, toy or puzzle that celebrates the birth of Jesus is a nativity in my book.
An abbreviated (VERY abbreviated) selection of my nativities. Not pictured are my two ultra large creches that could easily take up two dining room tables (which is why they're not pictured... there's just no where to put them!):
Anywho, this year, I made it a point not to accumulate still another nativity that I won't have room to display. I have more than a few still in my basement because there's just no place to put them at Christmas. So I buckled down and fought every instinct within me to buy another one (or three) to appease the nativity gnomes in my heart.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I opened up the last present from my husband - the man who once jokingly asked me if "Nativities Anonymous" was a thing amongst Catholics. I was confused at first, because it was just a little pewter piece w/ a Christmas star at the top. It took me less than a second to realize what I was looking at and a giant smile broke out over my face. I hurriedly opened the second package and the matching pieces tumbled out! I was instantly in love!
Pure magic! I was so surprised and so appreciative that my husband had thoughtfully picked out such a sweet gift. I was doubly excited that God rewarded my self-control after all. Ha ha!
But seriously - I love me some nativities. But more than nativities, I love how incredibly wonderful my husband is. Whereas my ex used to get genuinely (and irrationally) angry at my love of nativity art, Chris not only understands my maternal appreciation of this intimate Christmas moment, but indulges me because he enjoys how much happiness it brings me.
God is good, folks. Always and in all things. Happy Birthday, Jesus!
Grinchy No More
What started out as a super easy pregnancy took a nose dive a few months ago.
For the record, I absolutely adore children. That being said, I ABHOR being pregnant. The women who run around all glowy and saying, "I love being pregnant" instantly get side-eye from me (my own sister included). Ha ha. It just doesn't compute given all the physical challenges that come with growing a human for 9+ months.
Regardless, this particular pregnancy really tried giving me a run for my money:
I could probably go on, but suffice to say that this pregnancy has been relatively miserable, especially when you throw in the fact that I'm working full time and juggling three other children who rely on me.
That said, I recognize that this is a season. I was lucky enough that I was able to bond quickly with my other three children while they were growing inside me. This time around, I struggled with guilt that I didn't have that same experience with Luca. Logically, I understood that this happens, especially when you have a zillion environmental forces working against you. I knew that the moment he was born, everything would be fine and so I gave myself the grace to trust in the future.
However, everything changed yesterday when I went in for my growth scan. Because of all the health problems I had gone through, my docs wanted to ensure my fluids were back to a normal level and the high fevers/treatments for gallbladder hadn't had any impact on Luca's growth.
As soon as she put the wand to my belly, his heart popped up on the monitor. I'm not kidding. That was the very first thing she happened upon as she got her bearings, and I could see it beating strong and fast on the screen in front of me. She didn't even have to tell me what I was looking at - it was like I was looking at my own soul. My son's heartbeat flickering on the screen, and I felt like I could see ALL of him. It's hard to describe, but all the "grinchy" feelings I have had this whole pregnancy immediately fled. It was as though my heart grew so large that is pushed everything out except my love for him.
Then she started looking around for his face and we came upon his profile. We weren't disappointed!
Seeing how much he'd grown since his last ultrasound... I almost couldn't believe it. Even with him being my fourth son, it was still a sacred, mystical moment that boggled my mind. But there he was, in all his juicy-lipped glory. We were able to make out the fuzzy hair he already has, he gave us a BIG yawn, sucked his thumb for a spell, and did his best to push the wand out of the technician's hand. He was even kind enough to give several full-sized kicks that stretched him off-screen! It was incredible!
He's measuring about a week ahead and all his vitals are solid. And from the profile shot, I can already see a lot of Nico in him which means Daddy's gonna have another twin. Ha ha!
But it's just so incredible to me how my entire outlook did a complete 180 upon seeing him. All the pain, illness, exhaustion, and anxiety of the last few months were instantly gone- extinguished by the immense love and gratitude I felt. The bonding that I didn't think would happen until I held him in my arms came flooding to me all at once. It was overwhelming and apparently I'm still riding that oxytocin high today.
As I always say, folks, God is good. He truly, truly is.
PS - Shout out to my bonus bestie, Meg, for pointing out the "Grinch" connection. It perfectly encapsulated how I felt this whole time. Ha ha!
I've brought this up a million times, and I'm going to keep pointing it out because our Church (for as much as I love Her) is *TERRIBLE* at communicating/handling anything revolving around sexual abuse.
Recently, the Pope announced the beatification of Bl. Isabel Cristina Mrad Campos. Unfortunately, the VAST majority of reporting on this fact highlighted her martyrdom as opposed to the virtues she espoused during her life.
Most articles highlight what I red lined above and to survivors of assault, this reads like a slap in the face. If it wouldn't be a breach of confidentiality, I'd share a screenshot of a thread on this very post that shows victim after victim struggling to come to terms with the inadvertent lesson being taught by this manner of framing:
We have GOT to stop framing holy women like this. For God's sake, there are *STILL* people arguing about Our Lady's perpetual virginity 2,000+ years later. There are *STILL* people arguing about St. Joan of Arc's virginity (was she or wasn't she raped?). There are *STILL* people who treat St. Maria Goretti's story as strictly about purity when the true crux of her example rested on mercy and forgiveness, even unto torturous pain akin to the Cross.
Can you think of any discussion around male saints like this (aside from St. Joseph whose discussion only exists in periphery to Our Lady)? Can you think of ANY male saint whose virginity/purity is called into question with the same aggression as any number of female saints I could throw out?
You can't, ya know why? Because it doesn't happen. Because the Church doesn't frame male saints in the same way it frames female saints. That is a HUGE problem because it diminishes women to one, singular facet of their being when, as these female saints' lives can attest, their virtues are so much more than "chastity." Campos, herself, was devoted to the Blessed Sacrament, was going to medical school specifically to help impoverished children, and was well known to provide aid and comfort to the elderly.
She is a saint due to how she LIVED, not how she died.
Also, I have yet to see ANY evidence that Campos' murder was related to anything beyond yet another bruised male ego (which is the source of every male raping a woman since the dawn of time). So unless we're claiming that every woman who dies at the hands of angry, entitled men is automatically a saint for trying to protect herself from his violence, we should be focusing on those things that DID make her a saint. Or are we suggesting that women who survive their assault only survived because they didn't try hard enough to protect their bodies?
Seriously - the Church has got to do a better job understanding how Her communication around sexual assault can (and must) be improved.
May Blessed Isabel be forever remembered and celebrated for the heroic virtues she lived every day and inspire many new generations of saints.
Some Days, Nonprofit Work is Rough
I've worked in the nonprofit world, professionally, for more than 10 years. I've worked in the for-profit world as well, but nonprofit work has always called out to me, demanding my attention.
For the last year+, I've worked in an emergency shelter for adults in one of the "most dangerous areas of the country." It's hard work, but it's incredibly rewarding.
Most days, I genuinely love my job because I can see- in real time- the transformative effects of how my staff approaches breaking the cycles of poverty, homelessness, and addiction.
A few months ago, I was privileged to attend a graduation for gentlemen who had gone through a course we offered that focuses on building up men into better husbands, providers, and fathers. One particular man (I'll call him Joe) stands out to me:
Joe arrived to our shelter struggling with addiction and poverty. His child's mother kicked him out of the house and cut off all communication for him as a means to protect their daughter from his addiction and general inability to be a functioning adult. It took a few months, but slowly, Joe began to trust us and finally began to take advantage of the services we offer at the shelter. Fast forward about six months, and Joe completed the Fatherhood course. At his graduation ceremony, he received a few gift cards that were meant to celebrate his achievements and growth.
I think of Joe's story all the time. He's since moved on from our shelter and into a place of his own. We were able to help him with job placement and a housing voucher, and he's been sober for about 5 months now. His story is repeated in others every day here, and it's amazing to see. The work we do doesn't just transform the individuals we serve; it transforms their families, friends, and colleagues.
Unfortunately, not all stories end like Joe's; I really wish they did. Today, I walked in to see several of my coworkers standing around a computer screen looking through security footage. This isn't entirely odd- there are often incidents that need to be tracked or cataloged given the area in which we serve. However, I could tell by the atmosphere of our normally jovial lobby that something terrible had happened.
One of the people we serve- I'll call him Michael- had been hit by a car. Unfortunately, we didn't capture the accident on camera, but we were able to see the aftermath of police cars and ambulances that raced up the street, just off-camera, that responded to the scene. It took us all day to locate him. We called hospitals, morgues, even the police station, but due to HIPPA regulations and various policies (and the fact that we aren't considered guardians or family), we weren't given any information. Luckily, one of our social workers had backdoor access to the hospital that we were able to locate him at. News was grim; Michael was pronounced dead on arrival.
Michael had a history of addiction and serious health concerns. Poverty prevented much of his ability to see to those health concerns, and he walked with a cane. However, he was always very pleasant and polite, greeting me every day with a "Good mornin', Miss Gina" and "How's that baby of yours, Miss Gina?" He'd also poke his head into my office now and again to ask me if I'd wanted to share lunch or a snack. He didn't have much family left as he, himself, was approaching being a senior citizen. He reminded me of a sweet grandfather who simply got dealt a bad hand and was doing what he could to make the most of it. It kills me that he died steps from our shelter and none of us could do anything about it.
And to add insult to injury, I opened my inbox to find a heartbreaking SOS from two sons who were trying desperately to find information on their mother. It turns out that she had been deceased since October, but could only be identified recently through fingerprints. They were trying to piece together her last months and hoped we had come into contact with her.
Upon seeing the name and photo of their mother, of course we recognized her. I will call her Linda.
Linda was a recovering drug addict who also experienced a significant amount of trauma from multiple sexual assaults. She had been a member of our shelter family back in 2021 before we were able to find her placement in a rehabilitation program. Upon completion of the program, she began rebuilding her life, but unfortunately, suffered a setback and found her way back to the streets. Luckily, she knew she could return to us for help without judgement, because we all know just how hard it is to break these cycles. For a couple months, we worked with her to help her regain control over her life. Unfortunately, she relapsed and overdosed about 2 miles from our shelter. She left one day and never came back. It wasn't until we got the e-mail from her sons that we learned how Linda's story ended.
I struggled a lot today with myriad emotions. Obviously there is intense sadness, but there's a lot of anger and despair as well. My whole staff was feeling it. These are really hard pills to swallow, but they're the reality of nonprofit work, especially nonprofit work that deals directly with the most vulnerable members of society. We work so hard trying to prevent these tragedies, but the truth is, no program can magically make these systemic problems vanish.
It would be so wonderful if we could. Alas, we are but humans.
I was driving back from the bank, just thinking about the conversation I had with Linda's sons. I had to remain calm and compassionate for them... an anchor in a storm no child should find themselves in. And so I stuffed my emotions away until I was in my car where I could rage without causing more harm.
Because when this happens, I can't help but think of all the other Lindas and Michaels that we could not save. I tick them off, one by one, and castigate the world (but really myself) for allowing their stories to end without applause. I walk arm-in-arm with Despair, and I allow him to lead me, for a time, to the Sea of Futility. I contemplate leaving... walking away... because how can I look myself in the mirror when I have failed so many?
And yes, I do take each loss personally. How can I not? I am directly tied to the success of our mission, and our mission is to transform lives. Each loss brings about intense introspection: Could I have partnered with another business to secure funding for extra social workers? Did I miss an opportunity for partnering w/ police to increase safety around the facility? If we had just done more training for CPR, Narcan, or even DV awareness, is it possible we could have caught warning signs sooner?
And as always, the Holy Spirit quietly alights on my shoulder and whispers the names of those who have benefited from our programs. Chris. Pat. Kim. Ernie. Doris. Tai. So many more. Countless others. And their faces slowly come into focus, turning the Sea of Futility into a Sea of Hope. Their faces blot out the dark, inky waves and visions of their happily ever afters cause Despair to flee. I'm instantly reminded of the Starfish story, and while I can't "save them all," I can save some and to those individuals (and their family and friends), that's enough.
But I'd be lying if I said days like this were easy. It NEVER gets easier. It's ALWAYS gut-wrenching and makes you second, third and hundredth time guess yourself.
Regardless, I came back to the shelter renewed and made sure my staff was also reminded of all those who have found their happily ever afters here. It is so important, especially on days like today, that we combat the despair with stories of hope. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is really good at that sorta thing, and we spent the afternoon sharing our favorite "success stories" with one another. We did not do it in spite of what happened to Michael and Linda... we did it as a means of honoring their memory and the memory of all those we lost.
May they be at peace, and may those who work within the nonprofit world- taking on untold emotional, psychological and spiritual warfare- be blessed with that same peace.
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