The Coronavirus Birthday

Memorare

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly to you, O Virgin of virgins my Mother; to you do I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your mercy hear and answer me. Amen.

The Annunciation, Henry Ossawa Tanner

I’ve been trying hard to focus on just being present where I am these last several days. The presence of three large humans with all their calorie consuming, excessive laundry, and eLearning insanity makes it a tad impossible to NOT be acutely aware of exactly what is happening today. Noticing the moment is easy when the TV is being utilized to create a virtual NCAA March Madness tournament, and when between belching contests the conversation really is a continual questioning of one another’s manhood. Typically, my random weekdays do not contain, well…any of those things. Much to my dismay, the Thieme men also seem to be growing “corona beards”. I complained about this to my pastor, and he laughed and declared it a perfectly fine response considering how their lives are largely outside their control currently. I mean, WHATEVER! He isn’t the one who has to look at that scary, partial puberty THING attached to Zach’s face all day long. Damn it, Fr. Richard, ha?!!

It’s not all fun and games here, though.  Just like at your house, the 5 of us (along with many folks in our circle) have challenges to face that none of us were expecting.  I’d name some, but I don’t need to.  If you’re alive in March 2020, you already know.  Nothing is normal, but that doesn’t mean we can’t press on, go on living even amid adversity.  I don’t know about you, but I find I’m learning what my deepest identity really is about. 

Today is the Solemnity of the Annunciation in the Catholic Church, and its timing seems fitting to me.  I read a little sentence today by Deacon Keith Fournier which seems like a golden nugget.  He said, “Mary’s prayer teaches us to stay afloat in the ocean of life, with all of its underflows.”

I remember the Franciscan sisters who taught me in grade school telling me as an 8th grader that she was likely about my age then (14 or so) when the angel Gabriel appeared to her.  What the what?  I was shocked by that.  Mary was a young woman, a phenomenal instrument of divine grace, in the middle of her extremely ordinary life.  For me, she’s the ultimate wake-up call to remind me what divinity exists in all of us. 

God called an unremarkable teenage girl and after she paused for a moment, perhaps a bit confused, she answered with “I am the handmaiden of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your Word.” 

A few years back, there was a blizzard here in Indiana on my birthday.  Schools were closed for the day, and my parents were stuck in Carmel with us overnight.  We laughed, built a snowman, and played cards all day.  It was a memorable event, because typically I plant pansies in the front flowerpots to celebrate the occasion of my birthday.  It’s my own personal “spring is coming” rite of passage each year.  Honestly, I thought mother nature’s blizzard birthday couldn’t be topped, but this year, the coronavirus kinda said “hold my beer” to that.

Here’s the thing. No one loves birthdays like me. I just adore them—yours and mine!! Some folks are low key about these events. I am NOT THAT GIRL. I typically search out the birthdays of friends fairly quickly into the connection. Loving people up, even against their will…it’s my favorite. We should all have a moment where we reflect to celebrate the gift of life. It’s important and holy. That’s my view. I have been praying A LOT EXTRA and so the Holy Spirit had already been tugging at me to just enjoy the day as I awoke on my 49th birthday (which happened yesterday). As surreal as the world seems, I was determined to do just that. Keep in mind, I am the consummate extrovert, so this cloister concept (while necessary) is positively maddening, and not my idea of the perfect birthday celebration—at all!!

As my day began, I re-read a passage from a book I loved which solidified for me my instruction from the Lord for the day. In it, the author recounts being greeted by a poor man who appeared at her office with the words, “Good morning! I came to greet you!” She went on to say that was ALL he wanted. To greet her, like an angel of annunciation was his sole reason for visiting. He might as well have said, “Take off your shoes- this is holy ground.”

Be present, God ordered.  I am right here waiting for you, He said.  This is the overwhelming goodness that exploded all over me.  Just let the day happen, Shelly, and see how God loves you.

A text came through from my dear friend Lisa.  She proposed “a social distancing walk” for my birthday.  It was chilly and we wore hats and winter coats, but it was DIVINE.  She wrote me a beautiful note, a great gift for a girl whose love language is certainly words of affirmation.

On my porch was a handmade card and flowers from my friend Ann.  It was covered with photos of so many of the people I love.  “Friends are those rare people who ask how we are and then wait to hear the answer,” she wrote while offering a virtual birthday hug.

A package came from my sis, and my niece Maddie sent me sampling of her piano playing talents playing “Happy Birthday” on the keyboards from Chicago via the Marco Polo app.  We giggled back and forth as a family all day on that silly bit of technology.

My parents, who have never missed a single birthday in my life, ordered a birthday cake at Meijer and had Nick pick it up along with flowers.  They sang to me too, once I let them know it had arrived.

A bag full of toilet paper, purell, hand soap and Kleenex (among other thoughtful items) was dropped on my doorstep by the Zimmerman family.  Oh my goodness I cackled at their thoughtfulness and creativity! 

The Thieme guys and I ate take out from Boom Bozz and we overtipped the staff.  I opened a thoughtful gift from Tom (thanks Renee for the assist!!) and the boys each presented me with a “Dear Mom” love letter.  They will find them again tucked deep in a drawer after I am buried, by the way.  Holy cow.  You guys.  I tried not to be so all up in my feelings, but I read them again this morning and the lump in my throat was for real.  I did exactly nothing to deserve such wonderful sons.  Heck, they even agreed to watch the Mr. Rogers movie with me—the one starring Tom Hanks.  I have to admit that for the Thieme men, this movie turned out to be a comedy.  It wasn’t intended to be, but the cardigan, creepy puppets, poor singing and the land of imagination….they didn’t translate well for my young men who wondered quite audibly “what the hell was your childhood about anyway?”  I shut down the judgement just a skosh when I began singing the old “Clean up” song they remembered a certain giant purple dinosaur used to sing when they were kids.  There was plenty of laughter, so I’m calling it a birthday win.

My phone lit up all day with funny texts and sappy notes, while birthday greetings filled up my Facebook feed. 

My pastor and friend?  He offered his private mass for me.  That kindness TOOK MY BREATH AWAY. 

It turns out, the coronavirus birthday was a whole lot of beautiful. It was an explosion of kindness and love.  I snuck in some extra prayers for those who had asked, and a few who hadn’t and thanked God more authentically than I had in a long time.  There were tears of gratitude. 

I finished the day understanding once more that we can bring joy by being kind, change a life with kindness, we can literally infect others with our good deeds. It’s an outflowing of love which is born of God. He can use us all to scatter blessings if we just cooperate the tiniest little bit. This March, life is less busy. I know I don’t usually stop long enough to cherish them all or give thanks for the love He wants to give us which is more than we can fathom.

Yesterday, I had an experience of the holy.  It wasn’t a big event, it was more like people throwing a few pieces of popcorn at me all day long.  Yet, the presence of Christ was powerfully clear to me.  

It lead me to this thought today.  The central focus of the Annunciation is the Incarnation.  God has become one of us.  Mary has an important role in God’s divine plan.

The thing is, not unlike us right now, the circumstances Mary found herself in must have seemed more than a little surreal. Think about it. She was to become the mother of the Lord, and that sounds kinda cool to us 2000 years later…but in practical terms? Not to be crass, but she was a pregnant virgin? Umm. How’s that gonna sell? She had to wonder what was ahead. But the battle wasn’t hers. She simply issued her fiat and said YES to the Lord. She trusted Him with her life. It seems to me today to be the perfect example of faithfulness for a time such as this.

Today on my walk, I saw only a few cars.  The streets were empty, and behind us a truck came.  It honked and pulled around us a tad closely and a bit too aggressively. It flat out wasn’t that cool of a thing to do on a neighborhood street full of walkers and more kids out playing than normal.  On another day, I might have been irked or even given the guy a dirty look.  Instead, I prayed for him on my way home.  Perhaps he just lost his job?  Maybe he worked a long shift at a hospital?  How am I to know?

I’ve been trying hard to focus on just being present where I am these last several days. Nothing is normal, but lets just do one day at a time, huh? Let’s do our little part, be a little EXTRA. I want to be for others the exact thing all of you were for me yesterday- the face of Jesus. I can’t maybe do anything big, but I can throw my piece of popcorn.

God’s in charge here.  He’s not afraid of the coronavirus.  It’s time to tell our mountain how big our God is, folks. 

“My past, O Lord, to Your mercy, my present to Your love; my future to Your providence.  (St. Padre Pio)