12/8/08

Christmas #2: Empty Arms

“Come on, honey. We’re going to be late.”

I ignored my husband and continued shoving laundry into the washing machine. I knew Jason wanted to go to the ward Christmas party like we had every year since we’d been married. But I couldn’t take one more evening of Christmas carols and ho ho ho’s, or hearing one more story of a destitute family who got what they most wanted for Christmas. Those things were good and I didn’t begrudge them to others, but no amount of mistletoe and holiday cheer would solve my problems. [Love this paragraph. We get a very clear picture of her.]

We’d been married only six months when we decided to start having children. Jason and I both came from large families and we couldn’t wait to fill our home with the pitter-patter of little feet, even though we knew those feet would need shoes and we were living on a tight budget. But time passed. We finished school, Jason got a good job, and in all that time, no baby.

At first I tried to be cheerful about it. After all, we were much better off financially now—maybe the forced wait had been a blessing. But eight years of hoping and fasting and praying had taken their toll on me. I felt angry and betrayed. God had told me to have a family. It had been confirmed to my mind over and over again. Why couldn’t I get pregnant?

Jason appeared in the laundry room doorway, holding my coat in one hand and our contribution to the feast in the other. He’d baked a cake. I thought if I didn’t scrounge something together, maybe he’d change his mind about going. But he’d hunted in the cupboard until he found a cake mix. I knew I should have hidden it better.

We drove to the church in silence. Jason tried once or twice to get me to talk, but I refused, and he gave up. My determined sullenness didn’t seem to put a damper on his holiday spirit, though—he waved and smiled at passing cars, even if we didn’t know the drivers. I wanted to strangle him with his own scarf.

“Can we leave right after dinner?” I begged.

“I’d like to stay until Santa comes. You know, see the kids’ faces?”

That was exactly why I wanted to leave early. Jason found comfort in surrounding himself with children, while I watched them from a distance and envied their parents. He couldn’t understand my standoffishness and I couldn’t explain how badly it hurt to let my guard down. I wanted to share the joy of the holiday with my own children, to see their eyes light up with excitement. I couldn’t live by proxy like he could.

I didn’t say anything. Jason took that as agreement and tucked into his dry turkey dinner with good appetite. I just pushed my food around until the meal was over.

The microphone squealed when our ward activities director flicked it on.

“Sorry,” he said, clearing his throat. “Um, brothers and sisters, we have a special treat for you tonight. I’d like to ask you to remain seated and be as reverent as possible during our presentation.”

He stepped aside and the stage curtains opened. I gasped as I saw the elaborate scenery that had been constructed to depict a stable in the dark of night. The bishop began to read a narrative of the Christmas story, and actors filed onto the stage, taking their places and then holding their poses. I didn’t recognize any of them. They must have been borrowed from another ward.

I sat and listened, somewhat dispassionately, until I saw a tiny fist pop out of the bundle in Mary’s arms. She wasn’t holding a doll, like I first thought—she held a real baby.

I watched that hand wave back and forth while tears streamed down my cheeks. Mary got what she wanted for Christmas. But I wouldn’t.

I slipped out of the gym and went outside, not bothering with my coat. I wrapped my arms around myself and looked up at the sky, seeing thousands upon thousands of snowflakes rushing toward my face. I closed my eyes and let the snow mingle with the tears on my cheeks.

“Why?” I whispered, the stone in my heart growing heavy and constricting my breathing. “Have I done something wrong? Am I being punished? Why can’t I have a baby?”

I don’t know how long I stood in the falling snow. My pain took away all sense of time. From inside the church, I heard the faint strains of music, first “Silent Night” and then “Away in a Manger.” I couldn’t help but picture that holy baby, welcomed to earth by concourses of angels at what had to be the most glorious baby shower the world has ever known. I imagined that baby and my empty arms ached to hold him.

I glanced up and noticed a break in the clouds just large enough to let me see a patch of stars on the other side. At that moment, I felt a warmth seep into my soul, and my shivering stopped. The thought that struck my mind was so powerful, my knees nearly buckled.

Jesus was not just God’s baby or Mary’s baby or Joseph’s baby. He was sent into the world for all of us—He was my baby, too. And then He grew and fulfilled His mission on the earth, suffering to take away my suffering. He was my baby and He was my Savior and He was my brother and He was my friend.

I started to cry again, this time with relief at being understood and loved so completely. I felt as though a prison had been thrown open and I was allowed to walk free.

My coat came down over my shoulders as Jason stepped up behind me. “It’s freezing,” he said, wrapping the coat snugly around me. “What are you doing out here?”

I didn’t answer. I couldn’t. Instead, I turned to face him. He wiped my tears away with his thumbs, then just held me.

“You see that patch of sky?” he said after a moment. “The stars aren’t any less bright—they’re just hidden away for a little while. We’re going to make it through this, and there will be stars on the other side.”

I let him lead me to the car and we drove home, again in silence, only this time, my head was on his shoulder and my heart was full of gratitude. I didn’t know if I would ever be a mother, but I was a daughter, and that knowledge was priceless to me.


What I liked best: Great characterization. I get a very clear sense of who this woman is. And her change in attitude is believable, although it needed just a tad more development.

Magazine ready? Almost—I'd send it back and give you an extra 100 words to add to her attitude change.

6 comments:

Laura said...

What a beautiful post. I hope you find more peace and joy in this holiday season and in the new year.

Margaret Turley said...

This is a heart warming story. I vote for this story.

Christine Thackeray said...

Well done.

Heidi Ashworth said...

If this is where we vote, I vote for this one, too.

Anonymous said...

I vote for this one.

Taffy said...

Good story