I want things to be a certain way. Like everyone, I have expectations. Every Christmas we go to the tree lot, and pick out the biggest tree I can possibly fit in our home. Short needles, no Scotch Pine. White lights, and the ornaments must be just so. Truth be told there are many things in my life that are not just so, so I work hard at making this, well, just so.
This year a friend offered us a tree someone sent her as a gift. Strapped for time and cash, I agreed to take it off her hands. It should be okay, I think, after all it is being mailed here fresh from Oregon. She tells me it will arrive in a day or two.
I forget about the tree, busy with my son’s Christmas program and other holiday details. I try to keep busy since the Christmas program is hard for me. My older son gets up and sings with his class. My second son is two years younger, and the class he would be in gets up and sings without him.
I live communally, and we home school our kids. We know well ahead of time who will be in our kids’ class. The women who are pregnant and due all about the same time form an informal club of sorts, we compare notes on our pregnancies and commiserate on our discomfort, we count the kids that will be together in school and when the babies are born we discuss the boy/girl ratio. We nurse our babies together and take them to their first day of preschool together. They will be together for the next twelve years. It’s a big deal.
Jude has a wonderful school he goes to, it meets all his special needs and more. It is a nurturing, happy place. He doesn’t play much with the kids his age, that takes language and social skills, which are a mystery to him. He lives in his own little world and comes out to give us hugs and include us every once in awhile, and when he does we feel very blessed. I have decided I must wait for him to want to be out here on more of a full time basis, and trying to force it doesn’t work. It gets lonely waiting. Sometimes I feel I am waiting for him to come home from a long, long trip.
So I am trying hard to look forward to the Christmas program, and enjoy my seven year old’s part in the songs. I think of ways of combating the sheer agony of grief when the little cows and sheep and shepherds and angels make their way up on stage and sing about happy, beautiful things that happened a long time ago. Last year I had to shut my eyes and hum, and block out the cute costumes and beaming parents, and still it sounded like a funeral dirge mourning all my hopes and dreams for Jude. “You have,” I tell myself, “two other little boys who will do all those normal, happy Christmas-y things that you can video tape and brag about and cherish. You have one little boy who does magical things no one else gets but you. Is that so bad?”
It isn’t, really, but my heart is breaking, just the same. I tell myself to buck up. I ask God for a little mercy, just a little grace. I ask him to forgive me for the sin, of, I don’t know. Thank you for all three of my boys, God. Help me not to cry.
On our way out the door, the phone rings. It is Jude’s teacher. She wants me to know that Jude sang the songs in music time today, and took his turn ringing the bell. Something I thought was years away for Jude. Apparently he decided to stay a bit longer today. This is nothing short of a Christmas miracle, and I whisper a thank you and go to the car where everyone is waiting.
We arrive and take our seats, and Jude’s class heads up with their little costumes, being cute and being filmed and waving at their parents and picking their noses and yelling their songs. And I look around at my friends and I do not envy them. Another miracle. I feel at peace.
The next morning our tree arrives. It is not big, it is short and wide. It is like the Herve’ Villechaise memorial tree, but I am inexplicably charmed by it.
So after dinner we get out the ornaments and I am thinking Jude might let us help him put one on and then he can go to bed. As I said, I have given up trying to make him participate in our earthly rituals. He has places to go in his mind, and I can respect that, I just miss him, that’s all.
Jude sees the ornaments and goes right over and gets one and puts one on the tree and smiles at us. Then he gets another, and another. He is putting them on the tree, and admiring them, and talking about them, to us. I pick up some tinsel, and then, overwhelmed, I sit down on the floor, and sob. Jude is still decorating the tree, and having run out of ornaments is now putting ordinary household objects between the branches. The box of metal hooks, a magazine, the baby’s sippy cup. Our tree looks quite odd now, and Sage is bothered by this. Usually there is no crying and no magazines involved in trimming the tree. He sits on my lap, and I whisper in his ear that our tree is perfect, and this is the best Christmas ever, and someday he would understand that. He doesn’t seem convinced but seems willing to let it go.
It is a different sort of Christmas message, that maybe things that are unexpected and seem less than perfect can be unspeakably beautiful if we can let go of what we thought was supposed to happen. No one thought the Messiah would be born in a stable surrounded by smelly animals, and grow up to hang out with losers and thieves. Maybe God chooses things that we think are weak and faulty to show his power and love, and maybe if we take a deep breath and try to be brave and let go of what we think we deserve for just a moment, well maybe, God’s gifts put our best dreams right to shame.