"More frazzled?" I asked with a chuckle while I scanned the crowded church for an empty spot that would seat a family of seven slipping in late.
"No..." she murmered. Then, brightened as she realized what had changed. "It's just that you're NOT pregnant this year!" Unsure of how to respond to the obvious, I wished the frosty-haired woman a Merry Christmas and headed into the service with a crabby toddler clinging to my leg, a tired baby squirming in my arms and the fleeting thought running through my mind- "I may have had a BIG stomach last year, but at least I had a free hand!"
In the Lord's good humor, I've spent three holiday seasons "great with child." And each time that God has grown a child beneath my heart at this special time of year, He has also helped me to appreciate more keenly the "heart" of Christmas. Gratefully, my holiday pregnancies not only changed my appearance, as the dear old woman seemed to remember, but each one also adjusted my vision. I may never again bring a child into the world amidst tree trimmings and mistletoe, but I pray that my eyes will continue to see the marvelous even when all that is left of my "Christmas pregnancies" are faded ultra sound photos and sweet memories.
Eyes to see the Marvelous
written after the birth of Hannah Faith, 2003
“Do you see my mommy’s BIG tummy?” my three-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, asked the middle-aged man standing behind us in the check out line. His quick gaze at my bulging midsection was Lizzy’s cue to continue. “You won’t believe what we’re GROWING in there!” she whispered conspiratorially. “It looks like a basketball, but it’s really A BABY!” The man feigned a look of shock to satisfy my daughter and then smiled over her blond curls at my crimson face. I gave him a quick wave, packed up my groceries, and pushed my shopping cart into the parking lot. While Lizzy never grew tired of announcing the marvel behind the bulge, I had ceased to revel in the miraculous as my due date drew near. Keeping up with two rambunctious preschoolers and preparing for the holidays in the last trimester of pregnancy had dulled the sense of awe I’d once felt as I partnered with God in growing our third-born. Sadly, the thrill of pregnancy along with my usual Christmas cheer had disappeared with my waistline.
“You should try looking at things through her eyes for a change,” God seemed to whisper as I sat in a long line of traffic and half-listened to my daughter’s chatter as she wondered aloud where we would hang the baby’s stocking on Christmas Eve.
Later, when my youngsters had been tucked into bed and I had elevated my swollen feet on the couch, I picked up my Bible and paged through the Psalms. A simple verse tugged at my heart. “The Lord has done this. It is marvelous in our eyes!” (Psalm 118:23). In just weeks I would welcome a holiday miracle of my own. Gazing at my bulging belly, I suddenly felt ashamed. If the miracle of Christmas eluded me this year, when would I ever grasp it? With a contrite heart, I asked the Lord to help me view the nativity through fresh eyes. And just as God used a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and a clan of simple shepherds to stir the hearts of Bethlehem on the very first Christmas, so He used a baby wrapped in pink and two unassuming preschoolers to open my eyes once again to the Marvelous.
The Miracle behind the THUMP
Just days after I uttered my plea for new vision, my five-year-old son delivered a timely reminder. Curled up on the couch with a stack of books and two sleepy children, I was attempting to enjoy my favorite pre-bedtime ritual. However, on that particular evening, my full-term stomach insisted on being the uninvited guest. Each time my son, Lukas, leaned in to get a closer look at the book in my hands, he received a prompt THUMP from the tiny foot hiding beneath my bulge. As our story time proceeded, I grew more and more irritated by the uncomfortable boxing match in my belly. Lukas, however, was enjoying the vivid reminders of the life within me.
Knowing that his new sibling’s arrival was imminent, my five-year-old turned to me after one particularly aggressive THUMP and said, “I can’t wait to SEE those feet that have been kicking me for so long!” Then, with eyes agleam, he added, “I’m gonna count every little toe!” I kissed the soft hair on my firstborn’s head, wiped away a few tears that had slipped out of my tired eyes and begged God to keep me aware of the toes beyond the THUMP.
Too often, I approach the Christmas season much like I approached those last days of pregnancy. I grow weary with the boxing match between my limited time and my waning energy. The very things that are intended to increase my anticipation often add to my holiday discomfort. Like a full-term belly, my holiday schedule bulges with activity until the miracle behind the madness has been reduced to a mere series of THUMPS rather than an unparalleled gift of grace. Only twenty shopping days left (THUMP); the neighbors have already hung their lights (THUMP); the Sunday school class needs twelve more shepherd costumes (THUMP). And so it goes right up until Christmas day when my Savior’s birthday catches a tired me by surprise. I want to follow my son’s example and remember with delight the Feet for whom I’m preparing. The reason behind each obligation on my holiday list is a Bethlehem baby whose footprints to Calvary have changed my life. Those shepherd costumes I’m working on might not look much different than a spruced up version of Casper the Ghost, but my life looks radically different because of the Good News that was delivered by God’s own feet on the very first Christmas.
Go Tell it on the Mountain
Among the many neighborhood stories told on 86th street in Lincoln, Nebraska, is a humorous rendition of the dancing birth announcement delivered one cool November morning. After receiving the phone call announcing their baby sister’s arrival, my preschoolers took it upon themselves to spread the news.
“I’ve got to tell my friends!” Lukas exclaimed as he abandoned Grandma and his half-eaten breakfast cereal and ran out the door with three-year-old Elizabeth at his heels. Soon, the neighbors were rubbing sleep from their eyes and giggling at the sight of my barefooted -pajama -clad tow-heads dancing on their front steps. “We have a new sister! We have a new sister!” Lukas and Lizzy squealed as they passed out high fives and hugs. From one house to another, my messengers ran until they had rung every door bell on the block and spread the good news as far as their established boundaries would allow. Later that day, as neighbors stopped by the hospital to meet the joyously proclaimed Hannah Faith, they all told their own version- some with tears, others with laughter- of the morning announcement they had received.
My children’s impromptu birth announcement reminds me that good news is sweeter when it is shared. Our third-born’s birth would have been a miracle regardless of who knew the details, but the entire neighborhood was blessed because two small children dared to share the joy. The gift of Eternal Life is a present that begs to be shared. We don’t need to be three feet tall to spread the news; a child-like heart will do. Pajamas and bare feet are optional; dancing and whooping are voluntary, but the real message of Christmas is essential. The people in our neighborhoods can’t celebrate the birth of a Bethlehem baby if they don’t know He has arrived. A warm cup of cocoa for the frozen-toed mail carrier, a plate of goodies for the elderly shut-in, or a smile for the tired store clerk whose long hours have begun to zap her holiday zeal may pave the way for honest talk of the Hope we have at Christmas time and always.
Once my children had alerted the neighbors, they were ready to meet their proudly-proclaimed sister. With Grandma’s help, they arrived at the hospital within hours of Hannah’s birth. Dressed in Sunday best, Lukas and Elizabeth nearly tripped over one another as they tumbled excitedly through the door of my quiet hospital room. However, as their eyes landed on the tiny bundle that lay in my arms, my fast-paced children slowed to an uncharacteristic halt. Elizabeth scooted shyly into Grandma’s arms, while Lukas stood frozen in the doorway. Finally, my eldest edged closer to the bed. True to his word, the first thing Lukas did was unwrap Hannah’s swaddles of pink and gently caress each wiggling toe. Captivated, he moved on to her tiny fingers, her pug nose, and her two puffy eyes. He touched every wrinkle of soft skin, kissed the fuzzy splattering of hair, and marveled at God’s handiwork displayed in the shape of a newborn child.
“We have seen his glory…” the beloved disciple writes in his account of Jesus (John 1:14). While John wasn’t the only one to get a glimpse of the Savior, he was one of the few who claimed to have beheld His glory. I’ve often wondered about the others- the multitudes who flocked to the bronzed Galilean as he healed the sick and prophesied the future. Hadn’t they, too, seen his splendor? Or had they simply been entertained by the hoopla that his arrival had created?
Perhaps this year we need to ask ourselves the same question. Have we peeked beneath the layers of lights and trees and shopping lists long enough to see a baby born King? Have we truly seen his glory or have we just spotted the gala that surrounds his birth? The lesson my five-year old taught me as he cherished his newborn sister was simple: We can’t see Christ from far. We can acknowledge his arrival, and maybe celebrate his goodness as we peek from the doorway of our demanding lives. But we can’t behold his glory until we get close enough to unwrap the most amazing gift of Christmas and study the ten toes that trod up Calvary’s Hill in our place.
Claiming the Promise
As soon as her big brother was finished with his inspection, Lizzy crept out from Grandma’s wing. Once her fingers had caressed the soft cheeks of her newborn sister, Elizabeth was hooked. No more gazing from across the room, Lizzy wanted the miracle in her hands. With eyes aglow, the three-year-old who had been my “baby” just hours earlier, gathered Hannah into her arms and began to sing, “I’ll love you always...”
While I savored the picture of sisterly love, my mind slipped back to a conversation my eldest daughter and I had shared just nine months before. It was the morning that I had watched a little pink “plus” sign appear on the stick of a home pregnancy test. Content to savor my secret alone, I kept the news to myself. However, mere hours later as we drove across town, Lizzy announced “Mommy, I just asked God to put a baby sister in your tummy!”
“Oh, really?” I replied as tingles ran up and down my spine. Then just to tease my partial-to-pink daughter, I asked, “What if God decides to put a baby BROTHER in my tummy instead?”