Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Jimmy Stills Found a Bug

by Maggie R Zapp

       Jimmy Stills found a bug.  It was a big bug with a black belly and shiny blue wings.  When he held it in his hands, it fluttered its wings.  They sounded hard, and tickled his palms and fingers.

        He peeped at the bug in the little house he had made of his hands. It was alive.

       Jimmy laughed.   It made him happy to think he was holding something alive in his hands.  It reminded him of God.  God holds us in His hands.  Jimmy could kill the bug, but he didn’t want to.   The bug was a pretty bug and it made him happy.  Did Jimmy make God happy?

     Jimmy’s Mama called him inside for supper.  He could not keep his bug in his hand-house.  He put the bug in a wooden box and brought it inside to show Mama.

       “Mama! I found a blue bug!” he said, and showed the bug to his Mama.  Her eyes grew big like they did when she was happy.

       “What a beautiful bug!” she said.  “They call those kinds of bugs beetles.”

       “It is a beautiful beetle,” Jimmy said.

       “That’s right, but it will die in the box.  Beetles are meant to live outside with the trees and grass.”

       But Jimmy was sad that he wouldn’t have the beetle anymore.   If he let the beetle go, he wouldn’t be able to look at it.

       “It won’t be safe outside.  What if a bird eats the beetle?” asked Jimmy.

       “Than that is what God wanted for it, Jimmy.  God wanted you to see the beautiful beetle, and then He wanted it to be food for a bird.  The bird needs food to live.  Perhaps God wants that bird to keep living so it can sing beautiful songs for us, songs that make us grateful to God for His creation.   Just like the way the beetle makes us grateful.”

       Jimmy looked at the beetle one more time.  It was a beautiful blue beetle.   And he was grateful to God for creating it.  He would like to keep the beetle, but Mama was right.  Beetles had to live where there were leaves, and sunlight, and beetle-food.   If he kept the beetle, it would die.  He took the beetle outside again.  The sun was bright.   The beetle buzzed its blue wings and flew away.   Jimmy said thank you to God for letting him see the beetle.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Lost Shepherd Boy

Illustration by Jack Foster

       Ana unwrapped the last nativity figure.  “La Santa Noche (O Holy Night),” she sang.

       "Oooh, this one is my favorite.”  She set the third wise man in place.

       “Where’s the shepherd boy with the jingly staff?” asked her brother Tomas.  “He’s my favorite, but I can’t find him.”  He pushed aside an empty box.

       “Mama, is this all of the decorations?”

       Mama’s head popped out from behind the Christmas tree.  “Sí, that’s all.”  Mama nodded to their tiger-striped kitty.  “Has Neto hidden him?”

       “I don’t think so.” Tomas frowned.  They all searched for the lost figure.

       "We've looked everywhere," said Ana with a pout.

       “The shepherd boy is really, truly lost!”  Tomas threw down an empty box.

       Mama hugged the children.  They all stared sadly at the nativity, their Nacimiento.   Their favorite Christmas decoration.  Now a cloud seemed to hang over the little stable.

       Advent hurried by.  Every day, Tomas and Ana opened a door on their Advent calendar.  A bit more of the nativity appeared behind each new door.

       “Look,” cried Ana, opening the calendar door for December 23.  “The shepherd boy.”

       Papa looked up from his coffee cup.  Tomas ran to Ana, but he shook his head.  “I thought you had found our lost shepherd boy.”

       “Don’t look so sad, Tomas,” said Papa.  “You have much to be thankful for this Christmas.  One lost piece to the Nacimiento shouldn’t spoil your fun.”

       “But, Papa,” said Ana, “I think Tomas is right to care about the lost shepherd boy.  We learned Jesus’ story of the one lost lamb.  The shepherd left all the others to find it.”

       “How could I forget?”  Papa smiled.  “God does care about all of us.  I’m sure He will help you find the lost shepherd boy.  We just need to have faith.”

       “I have faith!” sang Ana, skipping out of the kitchen.

       “Not me,” said Tomas. “Not anymore.  Believing in stuff like that is for little kids.”  Tomas jabbed the Advent calendar door closed.  “The shepherd boy is lost…perdido.  God doesn’t care about a silly toy shepherd.”  Or perhaps me either, thought Tomas.

       Later that night, Tomas and his family joined the Las Posadas celebration. They walked from house to house in their neighborhood.  Ana carried a small statue of Mary.  Their neighbor boy, Juan, carried a small statue of Joseph.

       Like in the Bible story, they were all pilgrims--los Peregrinos.  They pretended to be on their way to Bethlehem.  They held lit candles and sang the Posadas song, "Canto Para Pedir Posadas" (Carols to Ask for Shelter.) They knocked on each door, but no one let them come in.  Finally, at the last house, the innkeeper family welcomed them inside.

       Now it was Christmas Eve--la Noche Buena. On this night came the most holy celebration of all, Misa de Gallo--Midnight Mass. A troubled Tomas gathered with his family in a front church pew.

       “Ooh! Look, Tomas.”  Ana pointed to the church’s large nativity figures.

       The bright faces of the Nacimiento figures seemed so real.  Ready to come to life.  They were like the characters in "La Pastorela," the Christmas miracle play.  They’d seen it last week at the community theater.

       Tomas blinked.  Now he was getting carried away like Ana.  He breathed in the fresh evergreen scent and sighed.

       Tomas wanted to believe in miracles.  He wanted to believe they would find the lost shepherd boy.  He wanted to be filled with faith like Ana, but he felt empty.  Like a flattened party piñata.  He felt lost.  With his eyes fixed on the smiling baby in the manger, Tomas prayed.  “Help me believe.”

       Later that night, the clock’s three a.m. chime woke Tomas.  As he lay in bed, he thought of all his unopened presents.  He thought also of the lost shepherd boy.

       Early on Christmas morning, his family would rise to open a few of the presents.  The rest would be saved for January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany--el Día de los Reyes.  This is the celebration of the three kings' visit to baby Jesus.

       Tomas crawled silently from bed and tiptoed down the hall.  The Christmas tree lights glowed with promise.  “La Santa Noche," Tomas hummed softly.  “This is the Holy Night.”

       He nodded to the nativity before him. Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, and even the wise men all wore such hopeful looks on their faces.  They seemed to be waiting for something … or someone.

       Tomas carefully picked up the figures one by one.  He arranged them in a semi-circle around him.  Still holding baby Jesus in his hands, Tomas let the soft silence wrap around him.  He let the Christmas lights warm him.  Tomas lay down and closed his eyes.

       “Here he is at last!” said Joseph. He patted Tomas. The bells on Tomas’ shepherd staff jingled.

       Shepherd staff?  Where had that come from?  Tomas looked down.  He now wore high-topped boots and a belted shirt.  He touched the small sombero on his head.  He must look like the shepherd boy from the Christmas miracle play.  Something fuzzy and warm squirmed beneath his arm.  Tomas gasped.  It was a wooly lamb!

       “Baaah!”  Tomas set the noisy lamb down on the stable hay.

       “So you found the lost lamb, eh?” said an older shepherd.  He winked.  “We thought you might have gotten lost as well.”

       I don’t understand this, thought Tomas.  Somehow I’m a part of the Nacimiento.

       “Welcome,” said Mary with a soft smile.  “We were worried about you.”

       Tomas stepped forward, but he was lost for words.

       “Did you follow the star like us then, young sir?”  Tomas looked behind him.  Three men in fancy clothes stood there.  They held golden boxes in their hands.  It was los Tres Reyes--the Three Kings.

       A baby’s cry echoed against the cold stable walls.  Mary bent down.  With great care, she picked up a tiny newborn from the manger.  Joseph’s brows were knotted.

       “What is it, Mary?  Is He all right?”

       Mary rocked the baby as she sang a soothing lullaby.  Joseph leaned closer.  He shook his head.  “What a poor bed I’ve found for you, my little Jesus.”

       Tomas stepped back.  He didn’t want to see the sadness in Joseph’s eyes.  His staff bells jingled as he moved.  The baby’s cries stopped.

       Tomas stepped forward.  He jingled his staff gently above Jesus’ face.  The baby smiled.  Tomas grinned.  He held out his staff to Joseph.  “Here, he likes the sound.”

       “Thank you,” said Mary with a twinkle in her eye.  “Just what my little shepherd boy needs.”

       Tomas felt his face glow.

       Joseph patted him again.  “God put his faith in you, boy, to set things right.”

       “Hmmmm….faith…” murmured Tomas.  He rubbed his eyes.  He blinked at the early morning sunshine. Morning!  It must be Christmas morning!  Tomas sat up.  In his hands he still held the Nacimiento’s baby Jesus.

       “Happy Birthday, Jesus!”  Tomas lay the baby carefully in the manger.  Then he looked at all the presents under the tree.  Not one of them was a gift for baby Jesus.

       But, wait.  He had an idea.

       Tomas ran to his crumpled coat.  It lay on the living room floor.  He’d dropped it there after returning from Midnight Mass.  Tomas pulled a candy cane from the coat pocket.  Now if he could only find a few little bells to wrap around it, he would have the perfect gift for baby Jesus.  A jingling staff just like in his dream.

       Tomas looked up at the tree.  There!  A tiny shining ribbon of bells peeked out from the thick green needles.  Tomas pulled on the ribbon.

       Huh!  What was this?  The bells were attached—to a staff!  And the staff was attached—to the lost shepherd boy!

      Tomas laughed.  His kitty Neto must have hidden the figure in the tree after all.  Tomas carefully placed the jingling shepherd boy beside baby Jesus’ crib.

      Tomas looked down the hall.  He could hear noise coming from Ana and his parents.  Soon his family’s Christmas day celebrations would begin.

       Smiling, Tomas jingled the shepherd boy’s bells.  Neither he nor the shepherd boy were lost anymore. Thomas felt safe and warm, like the little lamb he’d held in his dream.  “Feliz Navidad,” Tomas said to the sleepy baby Jesus.  “Merry Christmas!”

Get Real!

      “What is that?” I stopped eating and stared at the thing in my little brother’s hand. It was flat...white…sort of round....

      “It’s First Holy Communion!” said David. "I made it myself.” He must have torn bread from his sandwich and squished it. “It’s Jesus.”

       “Get real!” I cried. “Bread becomes Jesus in the sacrament of the Eucharist. With a priest there. That’s just plain old bread.”

       “Let’s pretend! Eat it, Cheri.”

       “I’m not eating that! It’s covered with your germs. And anyway...I’ll have the real thing at my real First Communion.”

       Mom came in, and David held up the chunk of bread. “Look, Mommy!”

       “He’s pretending it’s a host,” I told her.

       Mom put a hand to her heart. “Isn’t that sweet?”

       “I tried on my white shoes, Mom,” I said. “They’re too small.”

       But David was just repeating the stuff I said about the Eucharist, and Mom was hanging on his every word. I would have to talk to her later.

       At supper, I asked about my shoes again.

       “We’ll buy you some new ones,” said Mom.

       “Are you excited about your big day?” asked Dad.

       “I can’t wait! We’re studying all – "

       “Look, Daddy!” David interrupted. “I’m drinking the holy wine.” He sipped some cranberry juice, then wiped his cup with a napkin.

       “That isn’t the real thing, you know,” I told him.

       “I know,” he said. “Watch this, Daddy.” He flattened a piece of his dinner roll into another fake host and made Dad eat it!

         The next day, Grandma came to visit. “Have you been practicing for First Communion, Cheri?” she asked me.

        Before I could answer, David ran up wearing a towel around his neck and carrying a bowl. "I'm a priest!" he shouted.

        “No, you’re not!” I cried.

        “He’s just pretending, Cheri,” said Mom. Like I didn’t know that!

        David pulled a fake host out of the bowl and held it towards Grandma. “This is First Holy Communion.”

        I thought David seemed disrespectful, but Mom and Grandma laughed like he was cute. Grandma ate the grubby chunk of bread, and David gave one to Mom, too, but I refused to play along. "It's not real," I told him.

       “I know,” he said. “Now we’ll drink the holy wine.” Then he ran off to the kitchen. For his favorite cranberry juice, I guess.

       Mom started telling Grandma about David’s pretend sacraments. Obviously, we were through talking about my real First Communion. Nobody noticed when I went to my room.

       I was so mad that I paced in circles. I took my First Communion very seriously. Shouldn’t David treat the Eucharist the same way?

       Later he burst into my room, waving a box of tostada shells. “Guess what I’m doing with these?”

        I could guess all right! It made me furious to think of David pretending the tostadas were big hosts. I snatched the box and yelled. “Get real! The Eucharist is not a game! The way you’re behaving is totally wrong!”

       “What’s the problem?”asked Grandma, from my doorway.

       I felt embarrassed to be shouting even though I was right. Before I could explain, David ran out in tears.

       “Let's talk,” said Grandma.

       We sat on the bed, and I explained about David’s inappropriate attitude. “He shouldn't be playing around like that,” I said.

       “Little children pretend a lot," said Grandma. "It’s how they learn.”

       “But he’s making my important day into a big game. And it’s all about him!”

       Grandma hugged me. “David’s been getting a lot of attention, hasn’t he?”

       To my surprise, tears came to my eyes. “It’s supposed to be my special time.”

       “Your First Communion is the start of a closer relationship with Jesus,” said Grandma. “What could be more special than that?”

       “Well....” The truth hit me then. Nothing David did could change what was happening between me and God. “Nothing!” I answered Grandma.

       “Right,” she said, and gave me another hug. Then she picked up the tostada box and left.

       I sat and thought. It was time for me to get real. I didn't like David "stealing" my attention, so I came down too hard on him. That wasn’t nice!

       I felt even worse about my behavior when I found David and Grandma in the kitchen, spreading refried beans on the tostadas. David must have been trying to tell me about that when he came to my room. I had shouted at him for nothing!

       It was hard to apologize, but David made things easier. “That’s okay,” he said. “Do you want to sprinkle on the cheese?”

       By First Communion day, David was into pretending to be a race car driver. It was embarrassing how he kept moving his hands like he was holding a steering wheel, but I didn’t let it get to me. I was into something special...something holy...something really real!