What Matters: Learning From the Omissions {www.boldlytanya.com}

We grew up poor. We had next to nothing. Everything we owned came through the charity of someone else, or government aid, except maybe our house, because my grandparents purchased it before things got bad.

When we came to live with them, they had enough. Both were employed and able to provide for our needs, but soon, my grandfather would suffer a series of heart attacks and inevitably succumb to disability. My grandmother would slip on ice and permanently injure her back, entitling her to disability, too. Perhaps that stipend would have been enough had it just been the two of them, but they committed themselves to our care.

Money grew tight and staples became scarce. I remember standing in line to get commodities, white packaged boxes of powdered milk and government cheese. Sometimes we were lucky enough to get Chef Boyardee. Other times, we were unlucky enough to get cans of expired cans of gravy. Regardless, my grandmother found a way to use it all.

We anticipated once a month visits to Crosslines, a charity that accepted donations of unwanted clothing and distributed them free of charge to the poor. They kept a list of everything you “purchased” only allowing a certain number of items per visit. We would max out each time because we were afraid of having nothing. That is where I got my first bra. It belonged to someone else before me. Every time I put it on, I wondered about the girl who wore it before me. Was she in my class? Was it her first bra, too? Did she get it from a fancy department store or did she shop at Crosslines like me? Maybe the bra kept passing from one poor girl to another like a bad cold or head lice.

My grandma desperately tried to keep things fun. She made big deals out of our unfortunate circumstances. These were fantastic shopping trips. We engineered fashionable outfits out of rags, holding them up and asking opinions, pretending we knew what was in style. Grandma took great pains to make our misfortune fun.

Christmas was the hardest. I remember at least three were the only presents under our tree came through the generosity of our neighbors. One year, our pastor delivered a truckload, all new. We received real Barbie dolls and Monchhichis and My Little Ponies. That may have been the year we got our Pound Puppies and Cabbage Patch Kids, too. My twin and I could not remember a time prior when we opened actual cardboard and plastic packaging to reveal a new toy for us to keep as our own.

Then there was the year we received a few newsprint wrapped packages tied with red yarn. I remember asking why the paper wasn’t Christmasy. Inside each package was the discarded toy of some other child, rewrapped and presented to us as treasure. The one with my name contained a doll. Her face was smudged with dirt, and her hair was cut at jagged angles. One eyelid was stuck open. I hated her and her simple stained dress. But she was given especially to me. I imagined my grandma painstakingly choosing her and figured she was the best offering. So I held the abomination close, said my thanks, and tried to love her as best I could.

It is hard for adult me to deny the parallels between that doll and child me. We were both new once. We were both supposed to be loved and adored. Instead, we were abused and discarded, then presented to someone else. We hoped they would treasure us like something new and valuable in spite of our real worth.

It is still hard for adult me not to project my feelings with the doll upon my grandparents. I wonder if they were pleased with the gift God had bestowed once they opened the unremarkable wrappings and found what was inside. Please don’t be mistaken, I have no doubt that I was loved and cherished, but I can’t help but wonder if they embraced their circumstances. Was it worth it? All the sacrifice and hardship?

No matter how many gifts were under the tree, or where they came from, my grandma insisted upon reading Luke’s account of Jesus’s birth before we could touch a single one. Every year, we impatiently listened as my mother started with the Annunciation and read through the until the circumcision of Christ, silently thanking God if she decided to skip over the birth of John the Baptist.

Imagine the hardship and ridicule Mary must have faced while pregnant and unwed. I wonder if anyone besides Joseph and Elizabeth believed she was a virgin who immaculately conceived God Incarnate?

Imagine how ridiculed Joseph must have been for marrying a pregnant girl, when he wasn’t the father of her baby. I wonder how many of his friends lost respect for him. What did they say about his precious bride behind his back, or even to his face?

The Bible never tells us how hard it was for Joseph and Mary, probably because that information isn’t relevant. Not because God didn’t care about them, He did. Rather, our Father didn’t think that knowledge was pertinent to us. Instead of revealing their feelings, the Lord showed their actions. The account focuses on their obedience, reverence, and praise.

Jesus’s birth is about redemption. It is about God loving his people so much that he sacrificed his son for them. It is about mercy and grace.

When I sink into the negative parts of my history, I pause and think about God’s omission. Maybe it just doesn’t matter what my grandparents thought. Instead of speculating about their feelings, I need to fixate upon their actions.

My Grandparents rescued me. They sacrificed for me. They served God and shared him with me. They never, ever stopped trying to make my life the best it could be. They loved me.

That’s all that matters.