It was Christmas night. Time for bed. The old woman loosened the pins that held up her hair and let her long locks fall down past her shoulders. Glistening jet-black strands had long since faded into gray. They looked tired and worn out, just like the lady sitting on the edge of the bed working her comb through the tangles. As she pondered this quiet finish to her Christmas, she wondered if this would be her last.
Life is seldom easy for anyone, but for some, it's unusually tough. She nodded approval to that thought. Life had been extremely difficult for her. But she wouldn't complain. She couldn't. It wouldn't be right.
Being a single-mom was now part of her past. All of the kids were grown and gone. The grandchildren stopped by occasionally, but not as much as she had hoped. And not today. That was okay, though, because as she had grown older, she had also grown more desirous of spending Christmas by herself. It helped her make sense out of the confusing events that made up her life.
As a little girl she recalled her mother telling her that way back in the root system of her family tree she could list some royalty on her résumé. But somewhere along the line, her family's pedigree had slipped from blue blood to blue collar. Mom wore the same dress every day, and dad always had on cheap cologne called "fresh sweat." They were good folks, though, quiet people who worked hard, prayed every day, worshipped faithfully, practiced the Ten Commandments, tithed every payday, and always seemed to maintain a practical grasp of the "big picture."
But she caused quite a crack to streak across the face of that "big picture" the day she informed them she was pregnant. "You can't be! What are you saying? What were you thinking?" She tried to explain. But it didn't make sense. "This kind of thing doesn't happen to girls who were brought up like you!" And the whole scene was complicated even more when she explained to them that the party responsible for this would not be marrying her. What happened next is a long story. Dad pulled some strings, an older suitor agreed to the plan, and the invitations were sent out.
The baby wasn't early, the wedding was simply late. But at least the baby had a last name and mom had a man to help her plod through the uncertain future. They took up housekeeping and parenthood in one fell swoop.
From the beginning, however, it was obvious that their boy was different. He was the kind of kid who liked to "draw outside the lines." He wasn't spiteful or antagonistic to them, but it was apparent from the outset that they weren't going to have the luxury of coasting through his childhood. They'd have to pay close attention and take good notes.
His real father established a trust account for him-a peculiar combination of cash and an interest in a perfume company. His stepfather didn't hesitate to use it, financing a relocation that was necessary to avert the consequences of the boy's first run-in with the law. It would become a pattern that would dog him all the way to the end of his life.
Siblings came along-a couple of brothers, a couple of sisters-good kids, conscientious, a credit to the household. From the outside in it looked like a normal home, but if you got to be privy to the banter around the dinner table, you realized that this blended family struggled with some serious sibling rivalry. Their kids had a hard time accepting her kid. As far as they were concerned, he didn't seem to fit in. He danced to a different rhythm, had peculiar taste in friends, and had a bad habit of showing them up.
Then her husband died. Too soon. Too young. Too bad. She finished the job that they had begun together, but alone, a widow, a single-mom.
She slipped off her dress, slid into her nightgown, and then went over to the sink to run a wet washcloth over her face before she climbed into bed. "I wonder what Jim is doing tonight?" Jim was her second born. He was a pastor down in the capital. Big church. Tons of responsibility. Lots of stress. Both he and J.J., his younger brother, had gone into the ministry. It was hard to believe when you stepped back and studied them against the backdrop of the full picture. From the way they treated their older brother, you'd think they weren't qualified to wear the collar and take the call. They had been resentful of him, taunted him, and had just about written him off. "He's nuts, Mom. He hangs around with strange people. He frequents the wrong side of the tracks. He's making waves with the powers that be. If he keeps it up, we predict they'll take him down." Their hunches turned out to be right-half right.
She knelt beside her bed, whispered a few tender words toward heaven, and then climbed under the covers. Reaching over to the nightstand, she took the little cross she always kept there and held it up into the faint light to study its silhouette. It was hard to believe that one woman's life would get to witness this much majesty. And with that thought, she let her mind drift back to her first Christmas, in that stable at the end of the alley. Joseph had been such a trooper-a quiet and sturdy gift of God, patiently helping her give birth to the Son of God. She closed her eyes to remember the sight of the Savior nursing at her breast-the mystery, the miracle, the message. She thought of the shepherds crowding around the manger-leather men with calloused hands arguing over whose turn it was to hold the King of Kings next.
It was the Christmas that set the stage for the Crucifixion. It was the Redeemer who validated His identity through resurrection. It was the boy who died for His brothers. It was the God that those brothers now served. James, Jude, the disciples, that fiery apostle called Paul. It was indeed too incredible for words.
She laid the cross back on the nightstand and then leaned over and blew out the candle. Pulling the covers up over her shoulder, she rearranged her pillow and then settled on her side. Silent night, Mary, holy night. All is calm. All is bright. Sleep in heavenly peace. Sleep in heavenly peace.
Copyright © 2001 by Tim Kimmel. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Looking for help or inspiration this Christmas? FamilyLife offers several resources to help your family focus on Christ during your Christmas celebration. The Ever Thine Home® Christmas collection includes ornaments and other decorations help you honor Christ and proclaim your faith. The 12 Names of Christmas™ ornaments are designed to help you teach your children about Jesus is and why He came to live among us. And in When Christmas Came, Barbara Rainey reveals the substance of Christmas in poignant prose and vivid watercolors.