Back to Reality?

Crocheted Snowflake

A View through Mom’s Crocheted Snowflake

On the morning of December 26th of nearly every Christmas I spent at home, I’d get out of bed at my parents’ house to find Mom in the living room, surrounded by old boxes, the tree already bare again on one side.  I’d stand in the doorway, hands on my hips, exasperated that she had declared an end to the season.  But our house was tiny, and after I lived on my own in apartments that were bigger than the house where I grew up, I assumed that she just wanted her house back—that she didn’t want to share precious space with a tree that no longer had anything useful to offer.

One year, having grown up enough to look beyond myself, I asked her why she always took down the tree so soon after Christmas.  She turned from the tree, Santa ornament in hand, and looked from the ornament to me before she bent to put him into the box.  “I just think the tree is so sad once there aren’t any presents under it.”

I think of her now, as I sit before the tree trimmed with her crocheted snowflakes in a house suddenly quiet again.  Our children have gone in all directions to see other people they love before two of them leave to go back to the other side of the country.  But technology has allowed us to stay connected to them in a way my mom was only able to take advantage of for a couple of years before she was debilitated by a stroke.  During those two years, she was the oldest person I knew who used Facebook.

And in a few days, I know we’ll all be back to reality, back to the everydayness of life.  The babe in the manger will be a toddler who commands his mother’s full attention as he learns to walk and talk and be in a world that sees him only as another child.  The Gospels, written by men whose concerns in those days did not include caring for toddlers, tell us almost nothing of what life was like for Mary, the fully human woman who gives birth to a baby that is fully human, fully divine.  I like to imagine scenes that never appear in the Gospels, scenes where Joseph wonders if he’s ever going to have quiet time with his wife again, where Mary feels the human exasperation of dealing with a child who walks before he understands the meaning of the word no, where Jesus feels the constraints of a mother who doesn’t understand yet what he’s meant to do in the world.

We won’t see Jesus in the stories again until he’s twelve, on the verge of his teens and being just a little sassy with his mother when she finds him in the temple and asks him just what he thinks he’s doing worrying the life out of his parents.  I love that scene because it helps me to imagine a child and his mother not so different from us—engaged in the everydayness that comes after the joy of birth, the ordinariness that encompasses all the challenges and all the love of being a family.

For me, this is what God with us means—not just the in-awe divinity of Christmas but the in-the-muck humanness of our ordinary days.  By imagining what those lost years of Jesus’ childhood and young adulthood must have been like, I can think more clearly about breaking away from my own mother, about having my children challenge me, about facing the demands each day of being human in a world of other humans.

And so, for now, I love writing here in the soft glow of the white lights as the snow falls gently outside.  The tree will stay up a little while longer than my mother ever allowed.  We’ll enjoy a few more moments of having our children with us in the flesh, and then we’ll go back to the everydayness of our lives—sometimes challenging, sometimes uncomplicated.  But always, always connected by a love that is wonderfully human, wonderfully divine.

So tell me your stories of the ordinary after the extraordinary

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