Monday, December 8, 2014

Christmas Story: Gifts of the Magi

This post has been a long time coming, hasn't it? Needless to say, I've been busy with my parents, health issues, family needs, funerals, Thanksgiving and now Christmas, but I couldn't miss this chance to wish those who remain faithful to this unreliable blog a happy holiday season. And the way I usually do that is to share one of the Christmas Eve stories I write for my family.

This year we have much to be grateful for, because my daughter Karin, after years of trying, is finally pregnant…with twins, a boy and a girl. I hope you will join us in our prayers that she will carry her babies as close to their March 22nd birthdate as possible. Hers is a high risk pregnancy, but we feel the Lord blessing her daily.

As for this story, it was written with our beautiful Karin as the inspiration, because she had just begun her first series of IVF treatments. It took her three rounds to get her miracle, and we are so grateful that she did. Of course, this is not Karin's literal story, the only part I took from her experience is the in vitro fertilization that was so much on our minds back in 2012 at the time of its writing.

Merry Christmas to you!

Gifts of the Magi
©2012 Susan Noyes Anderson

Gold, frankincense and myrrh. The real thing, in a gilded box. She’d bought it on a whim one morning, more years ago than she cared to remember, for her Christmas baby. It had seemed the perfect gift for a newborn…a sacred offering, of sorts. Maybe even a blessing. Lord knows, they’d needed it.

Megan’s eyes glistened. She’d been a dreamer back then, a believer, but somehow she’d lost it. Not all at once, but by threads…sheer, gossamer ones that glittered as they fell like burnished gold. Inconsequential, they had seemed, and not quite worth the time to pick them up. There were plenty more where those came from, right? And sometimes, you just had to let things go.

Like her baby. She’d had to let her go, and no amount of idealism could have saved her.  A mother is a mother is a mother, even when she isn’t old enough to buy cigarettes. Reality does set in, eventually. Diapers and formula cost money, and that was only the beginning. Her little girl deserved safety and security, party dresses and piano lessons, two grown-up parents to love her.

By the seventh month, she’d known she couldn’t keep her. Or maybe she knew from the first kick, when what had been a beautiful idea first introduced herself as a real person. Megan smiled. Her little Merry, she had called her. M-E-R-R-Y. For Christmas. And for the joy she would bring…but not to her. Not to her birth mother. Instead, she would light up another mother’s eyes. A mother who could give her what she needed. Everything she needed.

The old, familiar pain engulfed her heart. How could it still hurt so much after all these years? And why on earth had she clicked so quickly last week on the site that was offering Gifts of the Magi for sale…genuine gold, frankincense, and myrrh in a wooden box? Did she really need this sad replica of something she had given to her newborn daughter 18 years ago? Talk about pouring salt on the wound. Even the smell of it reminded her of the child she had lost…and of what she stood to lose, too. She didn’t want to jinx anything, just when she’d started to hope again.

A slip of parchment paper attached to the box caught her eye, and she began to read.

“The magi of old were learned men or kings who studied the skies to predict the weather and, perhaps, foretell the future. Legend has it that the imminent birth of One destined to become a king among kings, the Christ child, was made known to them in the months leading up to that event by means of a change in the stars. Forsaking other duties and concerns, they made their way across many miles, guided by a brilliant new star and bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to honor the babe. These gifts, of considerable worth in the marketplace, were also believed to have powers of healing both physical and spiritual. Their value was beyond price, a powerful symbol of the bearers’ esteem and good will.”

Megan flushed with satisfaction. Hers really had been the perfect gift for a birth mother to give at parting: “a powerful symbol of the bearer’s esteem and good will.” The serendipitous words comforted Megan, and so did the double meaning they conveyed to her mind. She had been a bearer twice over…first of little Merry and then of the gifts of love, tangible and otherwise, she had sent with her. At least I managed to get something right back then, she thought. Maybe a few things. And Merry had deserved them all.

Shaking her head firmly, Megan stood up. She was due at the hospital, and her rounds wouldn’t wait. Christmas was a hard time for her, and she frequently took extra shifts so others could be with their families. Not that she and Craig weren’t a family, too. They were, but the kids they were hoping for hadn’t arrived. She always deferred to parents during the holidays. The corners of her mouth lifted slightly. With any luck, soon she’d be one of them.

Her pulse settled into a hopeful rhythm as she stepped outside and joined the holiday crowds. The department stores downtown opened at 8 AM the entire week before Christmas, and plenty of people took advantage of that before their workdays began. Megan couldn’t help but smile at the brightly lit windows, decked in garlands and bedazzled with toys, trains, and movable Santas. She even grinned at the Salvation Army man as a wave of nostalgia prompted her to open her purse and drop a donation in his bucket. What was it about the bells those people rang, anyway? If their steady cadence didn’t call forth the spirit of Christmas, nothing did. It was downright difficult not to get into the mix of things this year, and maybe she would just embrace it, all of it. Every time she thought of the nine embryos her IVF had yielded, a little bit of that believer she used to be came back to her. Perhaps she hadn’t so much lost that part of herself as put it away for a while…or channeled it into her patients. Were mothering energy and doctoring energy really so different?

Her boots crunched the snow, a pleasing sound that ended with a rush of warm air swooping her through the hospital’s revolving door. St. Mary’s had been good to Megan. Over the years, she’d made a kind of home there, for herself and for others. Maybe she could do the same for one or two of those little embryos. Maybe she would have another chance. Maybe this was…

As often happened, the head nurse cut her off in mid-thought. “How’s my favorite doc?” she asked with blustery good cheer. “Did your remember we need to get our kids into the rec room early for the carols and crèche party today? The boys’ choir from St. Joseph’s will be here at 11, and those cool bell ringers from last year are due about the same time. Then we’ll have Father Tim say a few words and serve lunch. What d’ya think? Are you on target for that??”

“You bet I am, Becky,” Megan shot back, hoping that all of her patients would be well enough to join the fun. Pediatric cancer patients needed all the fun they could get, and she wanted to see them have it.

A couple of hours rushed by as the good doctor flew from room to room, dispensing the loving care that made sick patients feel better and worried parents hold themselves together. It was a tall order, but Megan filled it in a hurry, updated a few charts, and got herself down to the rec room to enjoy the festivities.

The boys had already begun to sing, their childish voices reminiscent of the angels they celebrated so sweetly. The First Noel was her favorite carol, and she listened with special interest for the second verse, which had been running through her head of late. “They look-ed up and saw a star, shining in the east beyond them far…and to the earth it gave great light, and so it continued both day and night. Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel. Born is the King of Israel.”

Almost like a reflex, Megan’s eyes searched the high-beamed ceiling. The wise men had taken a leap of faith and followed that star, day in and day out, to wherever it took them. Hope was their vanguard…and their beacon. They did not let fears and uncertainty encumber them; they did not carry with them their burdens of shame and loss. Rather, they bore gifts…priceless gifts, beyond valuation. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh…the gifts she had instinctively given her own daughter, with all they symbolized. In a flash of clarity, Megan knew she would follow her dream of motherhood to its completion, wherever it took her, whatever it cost. For she would come bearing gifts as well… to any child. She always had. It was her nature.

With a sense of peace, she focused her attention on Father Tim, who was reciting the words to an old English lullaby. Not surprisingly, it touched her heart…a mother’s heart.

Low in a manger, dear little stranger,
Jesus the wonderful Savior was born;
None to receive Him, none to believe Him,
None but the angels watching that morn.

Dear little stranger, slept in a manger,
No downy pillow under his head;
But with the poor, he slumbered secure,
Dear little babe in his bed.

Angels descending, over him bending,
Chanted a tender and silent refrain,
Wonderful story of his glory
Unto the shepherds on Bethlehem’s plain.

Dear little stranger, born in a manger,
Maker and Monarch and Savior of all.
Love thee forever; Grieve thee, no, never;
Thou didst for me make thy bed in a stall.

Dear Little Stranger, Megan thought fondly. Like Mary of old, she had borne a Christmas child, a dear little stranger whose destiny was to bless the lives of others. The Baby Jesus had not belonged to His earthly mother; He had belonged to God…and to the world. In a sense, wasn’t the same true of every child? Even her little Merry? Megan had carried her for nine months and given her life. And maybe, just maybe, that was enough.

Father Tim concluded the Christmas crèche as he always did, with those well-loved verses from the gospel of Luke. Hearing them, Megan’s spirit resonated with every joy and sorrow the season offered her…from grief to gratitude…from empty cradle to newborn king. And this year, from empty womb to nine, potentially viable embryos. The miracle of Christmas was alive and well:

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.) And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Arriving at her door in the dark of early evening, Megan nearly tripped over the last of her Black Friday purchases. Why did those deliverymen always leave her packages in full view of the street? That UPS guy dropped it right on the doormat, every time. Realizing she sounded like the Grinch and wanting to hold on to the Christmas spirit she’d been feeling all the way home, Meg took a deep breath. With conscious intent, she savored the aroma of snow-covered evergreens and wood smoke that characterized her neighborhood in December, allowing what was probably misplaced tension to melt away like snowflakes. Reaching down to retrieve the box, Megan arrived at grateful. She’d been worrying that her sister’s watch wasn’t going to arrive in time for Christmas, wishing she’d upgraded the shipping. Now she could just wrap the thing up and relax!

Turning on the light to survey her prize, she felt puzzled, then uneasy. There was a note attached, and the first line made her glad Craig was on his way home.

“I’ve been following you around the hospital for almost a week now, feeling closer to you every day. I haven’t had the nerve to speak to you, but I’ve wanted to…more times than you can imagine. Watching your beautiful face as you smile at the children makes me want you to smile at me, too. I feel like I’ve been waiting to meet you forever.

I know this is the perfect time to make myself known. But I want to respect your wishes as well, which is why I have left this little gift at your door. If it makes you happy, call me at the number listed below. I will be close by, waiting.

PS. My mom always reminds me that I am a Christmas baby. I turned 18 yesterday, so I didn’t really need her permission to come. She knows I’m here, though. When she first gave me the box, she told me the story of the Magi and their gifts and promised I could follow my own star to find you one day. Merry Christmas.”

The warming scent of frankincense was strong in the air when Merry’s birth mother raised the faded lid, worn smooth from the touch of her daughter’s hands. Megan’s own fingers trembled with wonder as she drew its familiar treasures close to her heart. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The real thing, in a gilded box.

But anyone could see that the old box wasn’t gilded at all. It was gold, pure gold.

~ the end ~

No two people travel the same road in life. All of us take our convoluted journeys, with twists and turns that are hard to navigate. Sometimes we don’t understand the directions our lives are taking, and it can be difficult to see the top of the next hill, let alone the distant horizon. It takes faith and hope to press on.

The wise men had faith and hope that if they followed the brightest star in the heavens they would find their way to Jesus, and their faith was rewarded.

We need hope and faith to reach our destinations, too. Some of them are shorter trips, like finishing school, getting married, finding a new job, or having a baby. But the long-haul destination is the same for all of us. We are headed home…back to where we came from…and we all have what it takes to get there.

Christmas reminds us why we all have what it takes to get there, because of the birth, life, and atonement of Jesus Christ, His greatest gift to us.

What other gifts has He given to you this year?

What gift will you give to Him in the year to come?

(As you can see, at the close of this story I included our circletime question from Christmas Eve. I wanted you to catch a glimpse of how we do our celebration, in case you are interested in trying out our favorite tradition. First, I read the story, then ask the question. Each family member, in turn, responds. It is a beautiful way to spend the night before Christmas!)

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