All I want is to be in church. Right in the deep of the service in a row not far from the front.
In a sea of my favorite Christmas carols, letting the music wash over me and my tired, end-of-year self. I want to sink into that place of remembering what happened that night. I want to embrace Mary in my mind and watch as the Father God Maker of the Heavens sent His Son into the silent planet, behind a veil of sin, that would inevitably separate them, and imagine the midwives that caught him in their wise and worn hands.
I want to stand in the dark and travel the road alongside her with every kick and stretch of the new baby in her womb. I want to walk her footsteps in my mind and listen to what heaven sounded like when it held its breath and then exhaled its hallelujahs.
But I am standing in the church nursery instead looking into the eyes of a three year-old who looks back and says quietly, stubbornly, “I want you to stay with me, mama.”
The room has been decorated for “Jesus’ Birthday” – there are cupcakes and streamers and balloons. He’s holding one of them clutched tight between chubby forefinger and thumb. It’s red, helium, and floats above his curling blonde head.
It has been marked with his name – Micah.
“But this party is for kids; I’m going back to church. If you come with me you won’t have cake. And you can’t bring your balloon.”
I’m certain that once, just once he will be swayed to stay put.
He looks at me and up at the balloon floating red and warm and delightful in the air above him. He lovingly fingers the ribbon that binds it to him. And then he turns around to the teacher and holds it out to her,
“Here,” he says softly. “You take my balloon.”
Then he spins back around and grabs at me with his empty hand – filling it up with mine.
I feel like there must be a balloon where my heart once was. I am afraid it will burst. He chooses me. A toddler chooses me over cupcakes and balloons. The nursery door is open and I catch the strains of singing; “Oh Holy Night” rises above us and blue eyes look into mine and a small hand is locked onto my fingers.
I’m on my knees.
Suddenly all I want to do is join Jesus at his birthday party. On a child’s terms. Remembering the baby that gave up heaven and came bloodied to find me. To choose me.
We both eat cupcakes. I tie the balloon tight around Micah’s wrist. I am the amnesiac who doesn’t want to forget. Babies and toddlers over choirs, the wise and Sunday sermons. A small town chosen to bear witness. A prophet who wrote it faithfully down. And the namesake who helped me remember:
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.”
3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned
until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,
and the rest of his brothers return
to join the Israelites.
4 He will stand and shepherd his flock
in the strength of the LORD,
in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
will reach to the ends of the earth.