She worried about her recently divorced daughter being alone. But then she realized she was in good hands.
Posted in , Oct 5, 2021
Anne called right as I was unwrapping the figures of my Nativity set. “Anne, I’ve been thinking about you!” I said. My daughter lived several hundred miles away. After 18 years of marriage and three children, she’d just been through a divorce. This would be her first Christmas as a single mom.
Thank goodness she and the children would be spending it with our entire family. My son and his wife had invited all of us to their house. Christmas in Connecticut! Just what Anne needed. She and the kids would be surrounded by family, and everything would be all right again.
“How are you doing?” I asked. “I can’t wait to see you….”
“Mom, that’s why I’m calling. I won’t be there for Christmas. The kids and I talked it over. We want to spend the day here at our own place.”
She couldn’t possibly mean what she was saying.
“Mom? Are you there…?”
“Anne, are you sure?” I tried to keep the disappointment out of my voice.
“I’m sure.” Anne’s tone was firm. “The kids and I need to stay put this year. I think it’s important. You’ll have a good time without us.”
But what about you? I thought. I hung up and forced myself to finish unwrapping the Nativity figures and arrange them on a shelf. When I tried to set up my red and green candles in a holly centerpiece, I came to a complete stop.
It’s not just Christmas, I realized. How will Anne go on with the rest of her life? Like every mother, I’d hoped that my children’s lives would be fulfilling, peaceful and secure. Now Anne was starting over, on her own, with three children to raise.
I couldn’t imagine it. I pushed the tissue wrappings aside and looked out the window. Worry settled around me like frost crystallizing on the glass. Anne’s been through so much. She needs her family. She needs to be with us.
I told my husband, John, the bad news, then phoned my son’s wife. “Anne says she’s not coming,” I said. “I couldn’t talk her into it.”
“Well, she knows she’s welcome and we’ll miss her,” my daughter-in-law said. “But if it’s what Anne wants, I understand. She’s had a tough year.”
Exactly. That’s why she should be with us this Christmas.
December raced by. Wrapping presents for Anne and her kids was a painful reminder that she would be apart from us.
“Maybe Anne will change her mind at the last minute,” I said to John as we packed up the car. I squeezed their gifts into the trunk, just in case. But she didn’t.
Snowflakes drifted from the sky as my husband and I drove to our son’s on Christmas Eve. “Grandma! Grandpa!” We arrived to a rush of kisses and hugs and the stamping of boots.
That night all 20 of us went to early Christmas Eve Mass. The candlelit church was crowded with families. Music filled the air. As the priest read from Luke—“Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a savior”—an infant cried. The priest looked up from the text, pleased. “Right on cue,” he murmured.
My heart was lifted by Christmas joy. Yet I also felt sad for Anne and her children. Sad they weren’t with the family. Sad that my daughter’s hopes and dreams had been shattered. Sad that there was nothing I could do.
The next morning it was a free-for-all. The children tore open gifts and grown-ups exclaimed over new slippers. Stepping through mounds of ribbon and paper, I went into the bedroom and called Anne. “Merry Christmas,” I said, trying to sound lighthearted. “How’s it going?”
“Mom, the kids and I are having the best day!” She chatted on about the dusting of snow they’d gotten and all the presents. “Some friends just dropped by. We’re going ice-skating.” My daughter’s voice was cheerful. More than cheerful. She sounded strong. Then the grandchildren got on. “Hi, Grandma!”
For the next day or two I put my worries aside and enjoyed the rest of the time with my family. Anne and the girls had sounded okay. Maybe they will be all right, I told myself. But when John and I got home and walked into our house, my apprehension returned.
I spent most of the next day doing laundry and cleaning, trying not to worry about Anne. God, lighten the load of my heart. I went into the living room to do some dusting, then stopped abruptly.
I studied the Nativity scene. There were shepherds, along with the three wise men. The camels and sheep stood by Joseph, who gazed at Jesus lying in the manger. Kneeling next to the babe was Mary.
Then it struck me. Where was Mary’s family? I wondered what her mother’s reaction had been when her pregnant daughter announced she was leaving home, departing on a donkey for faraway Bethlehem without a place to stay. Did she ask, “How can you just go? You need to be with your family at a time like this!” I wouldn’t blame her if she had. But maybe she put her faith to work when her daughter set out on her journey, trusting God to guide and protect her. Mary’s mother put her child’s life in God’s hands when her own were no longer enough.
That is the message of the crèche. That the Christ child came down to earth to be with us, to be part of our daily lives, our families. To let us know that God’s presence will be there to strengthen and sustain us. It is ever present, even when families are apart. I ran my fingers over Mary’s wooden shawl. I imagined Mary’s mother’s words: You’re in God’s hands, my daughter. Go in peace.
I had worried about Anne’s being alone. Yet she hadn’t been. The One who had been with us all in Connecticut had also been with Anne and her children hundreds of miles away. We had celebrated together after all.