Merry Christmas! I wanted to share a story from when I was in deep in our infertility journey, and what I learned about feeling like a "have-not" at Christmas. I hope you're encouraged by this story, no matter where you are in your journey through life's ups and downs:
“O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,” sang the children’s choir from the front of the church. But, I felt anything but joyful, or triumphant. Despite the Christmas lights glittering from the sanctuary’s ceiling, despite the candles that flickered and glowed from behind the pulpit, darkness hung over me like a heavy cloak. Everything around me seemed so perfect – parents snapping pictures from the pews, Pastor Joe grinning from his chair at the side of the platform, little Mary Lou shyly stepping forward to read Isaiah 9. But, of all the little girls pulling restlessly at prim velvet dresses, of all the little boys standing tall and proud behind starched shirts and clip-on ties, none were mine. No little eyes searched the crowd looking for me, no little fingers wiggled a wave in my direction, no little voices called me “Mommy.”
Barren, the Bible named me, a cold, empty word. I hated it, not so much because it described the condition of my womb, but because it revealed the feelings of my heart - especially at Christmas time, when families gathered, mothers baked sugar cookies, and children counted the days until they would sit beneath laden Christmas trees and tear open gifts from Mom and Dad. Barren, the word haunted me now as I sat in the back pew and wished for the hundredth time that Christmas didn’t hurt so much. But it did. Christmas, it seemed, was for the “have’s” – those who have families, have children. And I was a “have-not.” What hope did Christmas hold for people like me?
In a moment, clapping broke out over the sanctuary as the kids’ choir finished their final song. With sweeping bows and stifled giggles, the children scampered to a wide box in front of the pulpit and pulled from it sprigs of mistletoe tied with bright red ribbons. My throat closed as each child trotted toward the pews and presented their parents with the mistletoe. I dropped my gaze. I should have never come tonight, I told myself again. But my husband needed to run the sound system for the performance, and no one would have understood if he had come alone. So, here I sat, uncomfortable and hurting while the laughter of happy families swirled around me.
“M-Mrs. Schalesky?” a timid voice sounded from beside my elbow.
I looked up to see 8-year-old Caroline holding her piece of mistletoe toward me. I quickly glanced around and noticed that Caroline’s parents hadn’t come tonight. In fact, they rarely came. My eyes met hers, and she smiled down at me.
“Merry Christmas, Mrs. Schalesky,” she whispered, then leaned over and kissed my cheek. “I hope Jesus brings you lots of gifts this year.” With that, she turned and hurried toward the back door.
Warmth flooded me. “Thank you,” I choked, too quiet for her to hear me as she slipped out of sight.
There, in my lap, lay the small piece of mistletoe, its red ribbon winking at me with the reflection of the Christmas lights overhead. It was such a small gift, so simple, so plain. As simple, perhaps, as a baby wrapped in rags, lying in a feeding trough. As plain as the Son of God, born not before family and friends, but before a stable full of animals - a gift announced not to the movers and shakers of Bethlehem, but to a few Gentiles in the east, and to a bunch of sheep-herders working the night shift.
I picked up my gift of mistletoe and held it close to my heart. If animals, shepherds, and even foreign kings were remembered in the first Christmas, maybe the childless, the outcast, and the hurting were remembered this Christmas too. Maybe I was remembered.
In this small bit of mistletoe, God was telling me that I’d been right – Christmas was for the “have’s.” For in Jesus there are no “have-not’s.” Christ was born for people like me, for “have-not’s” who, through the simple gift of Christ, are welcomed into the family of God.