So between now and then, if you experience any confusion about what really matters, let this letter (or some children, if you have them handy) be a reminder.
Our Dear Friends,
Christmas greetings to you and your families! We hope this letter finds your home brimming with good health and good cheer as we celebrate the great feast of Christmas. 2008 has come and gone so quickly, bringing many blessings and some changes, too. One of the biggest for our family has come recently with a career move for James. After seven years of service, he will be leaving his current employer at year’s end. As this letter goes to print, he has received his qualifications as a property/casualty broker, now qualified to sell auto and home insurance in addition to life insurance. He will begin working with a general insurance company effective January 1, 2009. It was a painful decision for him, but one that he hopes will be a better fit for our family in these difficult economic times.
Our children continue to delight us and keep us on our toes. Daniel, in particular, injects a healthy dose of testosterone into our days. He loves stories recounting the battle between the forces of good and evil. He imagines himself to be a Knight, on regular missions to free the Karucnic home from the deadly foes that threaten us. Only sometimes he forgets who the enemy is, and then, by default, ends up fighting his older sisters instead. His daily uniform is a cape and sword. Common household objects are repurposed for battle, much to the chagrin of his sisters who are often found cowering in corners, shrieking at him for pointing a wooden spoon/knitting needle/hockey stick/crucifix at them. Oh yes, I did say crucifix. We are a Catholic family after all, and we do our Church proud.
He’s articulate for a boy of three, and he often gives us pause with his insights. “Sometimes I want to do what I’m not supposed to do” he confessed one day. And after emerging from a ‘timeout’ and vowing henceforth to be “a listening boy” he wagged an accusing finger at his sisters, “Now DON’T encourage me to do anymore bad things!” Despite his firm grip on a toy sword, Daniel really is a tender soul. He indulges his mama generously when I request a “smooch”. We think it’s adorable when at Mass he places our offering envelope in the basket and announces loudly to the usher, “There’s money in there, you know!” Like a heat-seeking missile he finds us at night and climbs into bed with us, cuddling in tight enough to threaten parental asphyxiation. In the morning when beds are made, we find little toy memoires of his nocturnal visit: a few snakes, a dinosaur or the ever-present sword. It’s obvious that a little boy lives in this place. And there’s no place else we’d rather be.
Sarah, now 6, lives by her philosophy that, “Every day is a good day, because every day another baby is born.” She prays that God will send her twin siblings. She dotes after any infants or toddlers within Doppler radar distance, and attracts the wrath of Daniel’s sword for pinching his cheeks continuously. She feels deeply, thinks profoundly, and gives generously. We call her ‘Sunshine’ for a reason… she brings lightness and laughter to our home with her nicknames, funny impersonations and her innocent perspective of the world. “I’m not going to bite my toenails anymore,” she confided to me recently, “I’m just going to bite my fingernails, because they are a lot closer to my mouth.” The other day she mused, “I keep getting mixed up between Mrs. Ouellette and Mrs. Noel, because they both have the same first name…Missus.” She’s keenly observant, and no detail goes unnoticed by her. Spoiled by the abundance on her Nonna’s kitchen table, she openly balks at the measly three to four items on her dinner plate at home. “Is this ALL we’re having for dinner?” she’ll sigh, “Can’t we just go to Nonna’s house instead?”
Where to begin in our description of our eight year old Terese? She’s my right arm, my sweet, smart, responsible girl who is still young enough to skip around, hair swinging wildly from side to side, but old enough to read a novel in a day. This year she has met Anne of Green Gables, a literary acquaintance that has impacted her tremendously. She is an optimist, and when she’s excited she exclaims, “It’s like Easter and Christmas and Summer all put together!” She still adores her piano, and especially enjoys the dynamic “fortissimo”. We have the opposite problem than most parents, as most days we have to beg her to STOP playing. But most important in Terese’s life this year is her reception of two incredible Sacraments: Reconciliation and Eucharist.
Over the years I have helped prepare many children for these sacraments. But this time was different. This time it was my firstborn to receive forgiveness and healing in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This time it was my flesh and blood to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. This time, I trembled under the responsibility of it all.
How do you communicate to your children that life in Christ is true happiness? It is a question I continuously seek an answer to. It’s a question that drives me to my knees in prayer. James and I set out to prepare Terese for these sacraments not as animal trainers, or sacramental drill sergeants (both of which we display tendencies toward) but as parents who are glad to be the first heralds of the Gospel of Christ in our children’s lives. Since her birth we have begun the process of preparing her for these sacraments, with imperfect efforts that included catechesis, affection, and desperate, humbled prayer. But we spent the better part of 2008 in more intense preparation for these great sacraments, attempting to give our dear daughter everything that we felt we didn’t receive when we were in her shoes. We took her on retreat, spending the entire day discussing confession and the great mercy of God. We read Scripture together, discussing the foreshadowing of the Eucharist in the Old Testament, and the institution of the Eucharist in the New. I created an 8 week unit study of the Mass to share with her and our godson, Joshua. We held mock confessions with mommy as penitent and daddy as priest. We crafted and cut and glued and read and played and prayed and pondered and discussed. On the evening before her First Communion, both James and I wrote her letters, individually expressing how deeply we love the Eucharist, and how deeply we love her. She had written a letter, too. It was for Jesus. I don’t know how much she has learned in all of this preparation, or how much she’ll remember, but I do know this: a relationship with Christ is beginning in her life, and it is such a privilege to be here to watch it grow.
Sometimes Christmas newsletters have a tendency to be the written equivalent of a painting by Currier and Ives: snapshots of idyllic family life. Please do not imagine that life in our home is all joyful sleigh rides and cups of hot cocoa. Alas, no perfection lies outside the margins of this newsletter. Some days are lovely and other days, well, it ain’t so pretty around here.
One of those crazy days occurred recently when James was away for two weeks, and I was faced with the task of bringing the children, without Daddy’s steadfast presence, to a weekly hour of Eucharistic Adoration. I steeled myself for this endeavor by telling myself that I was doing something good and noble, and the phrase that Christians like to use about themselves in this season spurred me on: “Wise Men Still Adore Him.”
Immediately upon settling ourselves in the chapel, the girls began a quarrel over a prayer book. Apparently there was a dearth of resources in the bulging bag of books I had brought for them. I hissed admonitions in their direction while attempting to turn the volume down on the three year old making vociferous revving noises beside me. I noticed then that Daniel held a small car and was waving his toddler fist wildly in the air determined to “show Jesus” the toy he had surreptitiously snuck into the chapel. At the same time a new dispute, this one louder than the first, was brewing between the girls. I cast yet another disapproving glance their way while using my best sign language to tell them to sit apart. A hot flush bathed my face as I knew that we were quickly becoming a spectacle in that small space. And for the first time that day, I began to wonder if we should have even come.
I must have looked harrowed because a young man touched my shoulder on his way past me. “I give you a lot of credit,” he smiled, “after all, Jesus DID say, ‘Let the children come to me'” I mumbled an apology to him for our noise as I led Daniel away from a game of hopscotch over an extension cord. There were, mercifully, a few minutes of semi-quiet prayer, when Daniel suddenly lunged forward in a speedy sprint up the main aisle. Scrambling after him, I reached him in time to narrowly prevent a large potted plant from overturning onto Sarah, who had distanced herself from her sisterly nemesis by kneeling on the floor immediately in front of the Altar. Unsure whether to laugh or cry, I sat beside Sarah on the floor and pulled my littlest acrobat firmly onto my lap with me. Not one to miss the excitement, Terese quickly joined us front and center. There we stayed, in a sweaty, panting heap, on the floor, immediately in front of our Eucharistic Lord. The little children had come to Jesus alright, and they had dragged their mother, too.
In that moment, it was only by the grace of God that my thoughts became occupied with the Shepherds. They were the first visitors to come and adore the Christ child in that dark cave in Bethlehem. Like me and my crew, they weren’t the most esteemed or polished guests. Unlike the Magi, the Shepherds didn’t find their way to the newborn King through their own skilled survey of the night skies. In their simplicity, the heavens had to come to them. Amidst their humble work watching over their own unruly herd, angelic messengers found them. Yet, it was to those simple Shepherds that God issued forth the first invitation to come and adore His Son. Sweaty and breathless, their clothing heavy with the scent of animal, I imagined them arriving in that stable. In my mind’s eye, I saw them crowding in close to the Child on the floor, ecstatic, shamelessly pressing close to the manger to see and touch and sing to the Infant, with the song of the angels still on their lips.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized how much like the lowly shepherds we were huddled there in that ridiculous heap at the feet of Our Lord. And to think that earlier that day I had likened myself to a wise man. Indeed, there were no wise men from our family in that chapel, only a disheveled, impatient shepherdess and her three energetic lambs.
“Let’s sing!” came Terese’s cheerful suggestion from her place on the floor beside me. A quick scan of the chapel revealed that we had succeeded in scaring away the other worshippers. So with faces upturned to the same Jesus that lay in a manger all those years ago, we sang. My children were showing me, as only children can, how to forget myself and press up close to the Savior to serenade Him. How awesome it is that the Creator of Heaven and Earth makes Himself little, both in the manger as a Baby, and on the altar in the Eucharist, so that we won’t be afraid to approach Him. It’s the souls of shepherds and children that understand this… because they are little, as well.
I am sure that somewhere in the world there are wise men who still adore Him. But I am supremely thankful in this Christmas season that the simplest and the smallest ones can, too.
All our love to you and your families, this Christmas season, and into 2009… the Karucnic family
[Editor’s note: A paper copy of this letter was given out to friends of this family. One recipeint was so impressed with it, that he scanned it and sent it to others in digital form. We have reprinted it here with the permission of the family and with the names changed (at their request) to protect their privacy. If you happen to know the real names of this family, please do not reveal them in the comment boxes on this site.]