I remember the church that year; the stinging pain in my back was so strong that I was trying to concentrate on the flowers on the altar, the candles by the stained glass window. I remember seeing my daughter, then six, singing with the choir of children. I remember it as close to my worst Christmas ever because a week before I'd been in a car accident and the pain in my back and neck was terrible. A few months later I would have neurosurgery, but on that Christmas Eve twenty years ago, I was feeling bleak and lost and afraid. I hadn't been able to do much since the accident, I was hurting all the time, here it was Christmas and I didn't care. I just wanted to go home and get in bed.
That's when the kids dressed as shepherds began walking down the aisle, followed by kids dressed as animals — the usual pageant parade. The woman playing Mary started down the aisle — her face was glowing, my back was in spasms. My husband put his hand on my shoulder, "Are you okay?" No. Not close to it. Here I was, a new, struggling writer and I'd had this car accident and ever since then I couldn't focus too well and I didn't know what was going to happen. "Are you okay?" No.
The woman playing Mary was carrying a real baby in her arms as the man who was Joseph walked beside her. Every year the pastor asked a couple from the church with a new baby to play Mary and Joseph in the pageant. And then I remembered. I watched the woman, Mary, carrying the baby down the aisle. She was radiant. But that was impossible because a few months ago her baby had been born with a serious birth defect. And now that baby was the Baby Jesus, and now his mother was laying him in the manger in front of the church as her real husband, playing Joseph, watched. And it was then that I began to cry. I thought, how can she do this? How can she look so happy after everything that's happened? But she did. I don't remember anything else about that service. When I got home I went upstairs, got in bed, and wept, and somehow in the weeping I lay down the burden of my accident, the chronic pain that I could hardly handle, the fear of the future, and the unnamed fears I didn't even understand. And I just let Christmas come into my room and into my heart.