I was really excited this year about Jack visiting from Costa Rica for Christmas. Jack is my mother's cousin, and I met him for the first time last spring when Mom and I visited Santa Ana. He's a really fun person, and he and I are very alike in spirit and humor.
The last few weeks I have been preparing for Jack's arrival. Although he was only spending one night at my house before going to stay with my Aunt Mame, I wanted everything to be perfect. I scrubbed my apartment from top to bottom. It took five hours. I even cleaned the inside of my medicene cabinet. Did I think Jack would care about my medicene cabinet? No. But I cared. I cleaned my pantry. I bought a six pack of Coors, his favorite American beer. I put together a selection of books for him to read. I spent two days creating the most "welcome back to New England" meal I could think of, Beef and Potato stew with Guinness.
Before I left for the airport Tuesday night I set the table for two, turned the crock pot to "simmer," and put Dad's old leather jacket in my car so Jack would have something warm to wear. Everything was perfect.
Then everything fell apart. Jack didn't get off the plane. While other happy families reunited at the gate, I stood holding Dad's heavy jacket, distraught and worried. I got terse with a security guard who sent me to the wrong gate. I had Jack paged. Someone looked up his name and told me Jack had missed the flight; he was on the next one. I had two hours to wait. I sat and thought about the stew simmering away in my kitchen. I thought about how early I had to get up for work. I longed for my ipod. I got grumpy.
Once Jack arrived, things started looking up. We didn't stop talking all the way home. I forgot how tired I was, and put my early morning shift out of my mind. On the way to my apartment we passed a pizza place. Jack nearly jumped out the window of the car because he hadn't had a decent slice of pizza in twelve years. Excited for his "first" taste of American pizza, I stopped the car quickly, and he ran into the little store. Then I remembered my stew at home and started to laugh out loud.
I had spent all this time preparing and working and planning. In the end it was a good thing because my house was clean and comfortable, and Jack ended up eating some stew after his pizza anyway. But still, things didn't go as I planned.
This Advent I promised myself I'd really prepare a place for Jesus. I tried to be mindful every single day. I said I'd pray an hour a day at least. I told myself I'd find extra prayer services to attend. In the end, I didn't do that hour of prayer every single day. But I did pray more often. And I missed Mass twice but I went to a very moving yoga - prayer service at Hope Church. I also attended Taize, which I wouldn't have done if I hadn't missed Mass last week.
In and of itself preparing is not generally bad or futile. Because otherwise the apartment would be cluttered , the fridge would be gross and there'd be no six pack of Coors.
But flexibility is key in planning. It's important to keep in mind that airlines aren't always on time and that sometimes a man just wants a slice of pizza.
We can pray for Grace and make ourselves as open as possible in preparation, but it's still all up to God. Rigidity in faith, I am learning, might not be as useful as I once thought it was.
So, (ready for a corny and moralizing anaology to end this one?) I'm going to keep making stew but I'm not going to freak out about how many potatos to buy,* because in the end we might end up just getting a pizza and eating both.