Lifestyle

Bringing Christmas to life

Let’s see, I began thinking, as I lay in the dark, contemplating my Christmas “To Do” list: Put the turkey in at 11 a.m.

Press the girls’ Christmas dresses

Ask Mom and Dad to bring whipping cream

Wrap the stocking stuffers

The list seemed workable, but the discomfort I was feeling concerned me just a bit.

It was Christmas Eve, 1991, and I was great with child. So great, in fact, that I could no longer sleep on my back as the weight of baby number three caused a constant and frustrating shortness of breath, necessitating that I surround myself with pillows and sleep only on my side.

As I lay there, mentally composing my plans for the day, I became increasingly aware of a familiar old feeling that had twice before produced miraculous human beings. But he’s not due for another eight days, I thought to myself.

Slipping out of bed as gracefully as a woman experiencing her 39th week of pregnancy can move, I began my predelivery ritual. And I clearly knew what to do: I wanted to come home to a neat house. I also knew that if my labor was to progress, moving around would help. Keep moving. Prepare the nest, I thought to myself.

Suddenly the Christmas story came alive. I had a home to pick up, thankfully. I could not, however, imagine what Mary, mother to Jesus, faced as her labor began. She was but a young girl and so far from home, having endured a long journey so she and her husband could be counted in a census. So great was the influx of people there was not nearly the temporary housing needed. She and her young husband, Joseph, would have to settle into a stable, of all places, and labor with their first child on their own.

Two hours later my husband and I were winging down the highway on our way to the hospital. The intensity of my labor and comments regarding the number of annoying bumps in the road caused my driver to put the pedal to the metal with greater urgency than normal.

“Are you OK?” my husband would ask each time my puffing intensified. “I’m OK,” I would reply as the labor subsided a bit.

“And are we having fun yet?” he would tease. I managed a few smiles in return, as I recall.

I knew what awaited me. It was time to dig deep into my reserves, to draw on patience and strength, endurance and good humor. So I puffed and prayed, concentrating on the joy I imagined feeling when the doctor would hand me this surprise Christmas Eve present.

Christmas Eve has always been special to me. My very first memory involves sitting in a church pew between my parents, holding a lit candle and watching a nativity re-creation. A young mother in the congregation had volunteered to play the role of Mary and I had that image of her walking down the aisle, holding her newborn son, is seared into my mind.

My next memories pick up when I was a teenager. I had met this great young guy named Matt some months before and he had invited my family and me to his house for Christmas Eve dinner. There, among the swarms of aunts, uncles, cousins and family friends, we took our place at the longest table I had ever seen. Decorated with candles, Christmas greenery, crystal, china, silver and more food than I had ever seen. I began to see what a family of faith can do: it unites people, providing solidarity, pleasure, comfort and strength.

Christmas Eve, 1979, was the year I arrived early to church because that same young man, now a college student, was scheduled to work as a greeter and I wanted to sit with him when the service began. As I sat in the pew, listening to the musicians rehearse one last time, he thrust a small box into my hand. A look inside revealed an engagement ring and wedding band. A whispered, “Will you marry me?” and an emotion-filled, “Of course, I will!” started an evening never to be forgotten.

It is this rich personal history and the memory of the obstetrician handing Matt and me a 9.50-pound baby boy at 6:36 a.m., Christmas Eve morning of 1991, that fills my heart today as I look up at my 14-year-old son. There among the Christmas decor is a birthday cake and birthday gifts honoring the birth of a boy whose voice is now so low he ís mistaken for his dad over the phone and whose shoe size has surpassed us all.

Whatever decorates your home, whoever adorns your memories and sits down at your table today, may there be love, food and faith. And may the gift of the season’s joy — bring a smile to your face, a tear to your eye, and a hug for someone near you today.

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