They come through the church door into the foyer. My limited vision can make out only their forms, but I recognize them, desperate folks who stop by on occasion to check out the food supplies available that day.
“Felix” and “Norma” (pseudonyms) accept my invitation to sit in my office. Felix, as usual, squats nearest the food box, and soon starts pointing out items that catch his eye, that would meet his needs.
His somewhat aggressive manner instills the question in me, “Who would I be in his shoes?”
Norma, meanwhile, has a need to talk. I know there are hardships in their lives. The two youngest of their four boys have been apprehended by Social Services. She hopes to have them returned by Christmas. She is a mother with a passionate love for her children. The oldest is being raised by her father, so she currently has only one at home, about 10 years old. Both Felix and Norma acknowledge their struggle with addictions, with Felix on a methadone program and Norma on a similar plan that she takes in pill form. They talk about how hard that is, and they admit there are occasional slip-ups.
Despite her love for her babies, Norma doesn’t express blame, or even anger, at the system that has removed her children. Repeatedly, she talks about her effort to live well, to live clean. A year ago, she determined to stop hitting her boys, and that has gone pretty well.
Norma and Felix have both been sober for six years, but recalling the violence that their oldest witnessed from them brings tears of shame. She blushes with pride as she relates that her 10-year-old tells her she is pretty.
Norma proudly tells me that she is again pregnant. She is convinced that it is another son. She and Felix talk about their hope for taking anger-management and parenting classes. My encouragement is as strong as appropriate. She shares the excitement she feels for this new one in her life, her hope that she can parent with love and with strength. Her story includes many painful and angry chapters, but whenever she refers to the new life within her, her eyes brighten with hope. In those moments, I note her beauty.
Later that same day, a small choir gathers at our church to prepare for a Christmas program. A song tells the story of the angel appearing to Mary, inviting her to become part of the holy story, to have a role in offering hope to the world. The song ends with the words, “Tell God I say yes!”
As the female voices close with those strong words, I am jolted back to Norma’s face. I see her bright and determined eyes. I hear her voice say “Yes!”
I don’t need my spirituality to be given legitimacy by magic. I don’t need Mary to be virginal or pure. What takes me to holy places is the determination, the light in the eyes, the passion.
I also know of the dangers of pregnancy mixed with drug use. I have no quick answers, no naïve need to predict perfect outcomes. The road ahead for Norma and Felix will continue to be fraught with hard realities.
But I sense holiness in the primal need of a mother to be a mother. I am in awe of the determination to nurture, to love, to protect.
I am reminded of the Mary who stands at the foot of the cross in tears. Norma has spent time there as well. She will again. None of these pictures need perfection or a suspension of reality to leave me in awe of the one who said, “Tell God I say yes!”
Ed Olfert (firstname.lastname@example.org) receives holy gifts year-round.