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Feeling the Itchy Straw on Your Back

alec vanderboom

This Advent season I really meditated on the image of the baby Jesus in the manager. Not the sweet plastic image slapped on a Greeting Card--but that real manager.

Itchy Straw.

Cow Slobber.

The smell of donkey dung in the air.

My question for Mommy Mary at the start of Advent is "Why did you put your baby down in a manager?"

Because I have a newborn, and the urge to protect her is pretty strong.

Mary could have just held the Baby Jesus in her arms immediately after his birth. That's the place where most newborns normally want to be. Jesus could have just come out in his special way, nursed, and they fallen asleep in that warm nook between his mother's chin and her round shoulder. That cozy place is Baby Tessy's favorite spot to nap.

Instead, Our Lady put her newborn son down.

In a real manager.

The one filled with itchy straw and cow slobber and odd donkey germs.

This newborn was not ordinary. Christ was divine. He came to earth for a purpose. To suffer greatly for love. He got down to work moments after birth starting with a strong preference to itchy straw rather than the smooth skin of his mother's neck.

Mary was a real person. Filled with grace. She somehow got Christ's mission. Against all her natural instincts she laid that newborn in the straw. Then she prayed beside his poor uncomfortable bed in wonder and awe.

This Fall, my newborn Tess spent 3 weeks recovering from her near death in the NICU of one of the world's best hospitals for Children.

Tess endured countless needle pokes from IVs and blood draws. I never thought of those needle pokes as itchy straw during her NICU stay. I'm not "More Like Mary" yet. I flinched at each and every poke Tessy received. I never shrugged off an opportunity to hug my baby girl in some intimate kangaroo care.

I hope that next time a kid of mine is in tears, or pain, or emotional suffering--I can be just a tad more holy in my reaction. I don't have to understand suffering. I don't have to like it. But I do need to realize that redemptive suffering is a great mystery that even tiny infants participate in to bring more love into our broken, cold world.