Wowza, the holidays are a still a blur, but I thought I’d take a minute to share a bit of a personal story.
We (hubby, two kids and me) started our Christmas celebrating at my in-laws this weekend. We are blessed that my sister-in-law hosted, not only in her gorgeous home with a million dollar view, but blessed in that she cooked an entire ham and potatoes feast for us – all 17 of us. Her mother delivered sugary goodies, and her husband is an incredible worker behind the scenes, but my sister-in-law orchestrated it all.
We were there, watching every detail as the Vikings demolished the Packers on their own turf on the large screen tv (SKOL!) when my insanely sweet nephew says, “So, Becky, I hear your brother got engaged!”
I thought he was kidding.
My brother has been madly in love with his girlfriend now for three years, and there was no way he would propose to her without telling his oldest sister, the one that loves him more than just about anyone on this planet (OK, everyone loves him, he’s just a great guy). But, seriously, I wouldn’t be the one to find out on Facebook, right?
There was the picture of her hand with the long awaited ring. I’d say in black and white, clear as day, but it was in brilliant color, all fifty (million or so) diamonds glistening like the ground should have been this time of year. (Nobody sings, “I’m dreaming of a brown, depressing and bleak – Christmas,” but that’s what we’ve got.)
I wrote the obligatory “Congratulations” on her post because she is an incredible catch and I would have been heartbroken if she had given up on him, or if he had given up on himself. But in my heart, honestly, I felt hurt. I was hurt that my brother hadn’t told me, but it was such a selfish and unproductive feeling that I just didn’t share that part with people. I locked the ugly inside to fester.
A member of the family showed up to the Christmas party that sometimes grates my nerves, and I definitely grate hers, but we do our best to make these family occasions go off with nothing but good memories for the children. I sometimes pat myself on the back after a particularly awful family gathering and tell myself, “Yes, you acted maturely. You did not say even one of the things in your head out loud to that woman. You did not start any fist fights or dramatic displays of power. You win today, Becky. You win.”
Even though winning often feels like a horrific loss on the inside as I get stepped on comment after comment all night long.
Basically the last person I wanted to know about my brother’s surprise engagement was this woman, who loves a juicy bit of gossip. So when one of the sisters was like, “Hey, Becky, did you tell *insert amazingly awesome woman’s name here* about the good news?” I was nonplussed.
I forced the words through my lips, and of course I got the dramatic response I expected. Facial expressions, nonverbal body language, exaggerated “oohs” and “aahhhs,” the whole kit and caboodle. It grated on me partly because she was a gossip and I didn’t want it to get around before my brother could tell important people in his life (mainly me), but also because I didn’t want to admit how low on the totem pole I felt to such a woman of power.
Three hours later than planned everyone finally showed up, and at the dinner table *insert amazing woman’s name here* announced loudly across the table, “Hey, did you hear the good news?” to the newest arrivals and everyone’s eyes fell on me and it got really quiet, probably my body language gave away what my tongue wanted to say all day, but I heard my brain accidentally say out loud, “Oh, Jesus.” I broke my own rule to let things go that day for the sake of the babies.
It was really just a whisper, but it came out loud because the room was silent. I am sure it was heard to everyone except *insert amazing woman here* because she has hearing aids, or she just didn’t care.
I quickly recovered and announced the news for what seemed like the fourteenth time through clenched teeth and really just wanted break into tears, but it was Christmas, darn it, and I wasn’t going to ruin it for everyone.
Apparently only for myself.
Because, really, being hurt is incredibly selfish I told myself. It is. I am happy for my brother. But I also know that if my brother would have been there that day I would have punched him right square in his grown up man shoulder. Just cuz I can with him (only me, everybody else will have to get through me before you touch my baby brother).
He deserves more than what I am for a sister. He deserves my two younger sisters, the ones who are compassionate and outspoken and a little mischievous; clearly why God gave him two other sisters before he came along.
I made it through the rest of the evening without incident (well, there were lots of other instances, but I’m not prepared to share those just yet.). We went home, went to bed, and started the next morning out at MY parents’. I thought it would be easier.
But, hello world, big slap of reality hits me right at the altar.
I was fortunate that on my side of the family all seven grandkids made it to the church’s candlelight service, and almost all of their parents (which is a small miracle because two are loud atheists and the other two are still a little mad at God for a few things).
I managed to get my autistic nephew up for communion, and it’s dark with candles lit everywhere and such a physical, material reminder of how awesome Christmas is that I am in awe on the way up. How one birth can unite families around the globe. I was in awe before reality resurfaced.
My autistic, elementary aged nephew hears what is being said about “This is the blood, given for you,” and he wails dramatically “Ahhh, nooo!!! I don’t get any! I don’t deserve the blood!” I knew logically he wasn’t offered the wine because he hadn’t been to the official Lutheran class for the older kids, but he couldn’t process it as I did, and I didn’t take the time in front of the entire church to explain it to him, hoping to instead breach the subject later.
Then the little tasteless wafers were passed out (or maybe it was the other way around, I don’t remember – wine first or wafer first?), and he is getting increasingly agitated that he only gets a thumb across his temple. He dramatically wails again, “Ahhh! Nooo! I don’t get the skin, either! I don’t deserve the skin!” and he is about as close to tears as he gets when he nearly brings me to tears.
My nephew, innocently, verbalized a feeling I had stashed away. I didn’t deserve my brother’s love or my sisters’ easy forgiveness. And those are just worldly, earthly people’s affections.
If I didn’t deserve the love and compassion from my own human worldly family, how could I possibly deserve the love and compassion of Christ? I mean, He took more than a punch in the shoulder for me, someone who was just a mere thought at the time over two thousand years ago.
It kind of hit me all at once as I’m diverting my precious nephew away from the candles so we don’t set the place on fire. Or he doesn’t set himself on fire. Or the lady with the very flammable sweater in front of us on fire.
We made it back to the pews, and the rest of the service – between two year olds wiggling and seven year olds wiggling and the adults around them wiggling – I was finally, for the FIRST time this season, able to set my selfish self aside for a moment and focus on the true meaning of Christmas. Our eternal salvation resting on the shoulders of a Godly man.
So, the rest of the evening, through the chaos of sixteen people crammed in a nice house my parents built by hand themselves, I was able to put things more in perspective. I asked, sincerely, how my brother proposed and all the beautiful details that went with his story. I filled my belly on his fiancé’s AMAZING soup, and I colored with the babes.
And life was perfect, even for this imperfect human.