"O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant," sang the children's choir from the front of the church. But I felt anything but joyful or triumphant. Despite the Christmas lights glittering from the sanctuary's ceiling and the candles behind the pulpit, darkness hung over me. Of all the little girls pulling restlessly at their dresses, of all the little boys standing tall and proud behind starched shirts, none were mine. No little eyes searched the crowd looking for me, no little fingers wiggled a wave in my direction, no little voices called me Mommy.
Barren, the Bible named me, a cold, empty word. I hated it not so much because it described my womb but because it revealed the feelings of my heart—especially at Christmas-time when families gathered, mothers baked sugar cookies and children counted the days until they would tear open gifts from Mom and Dad. Barren, the word haunted me now as I sat in the back pew and wished for the hundredth time that Christmas didn't hurt so much. But it did. Christmas, it seemed, was a time for families. And Joe and I, with only our two dogs, did not constitute a real family. At least I didn't think so. And neither, it seemed, did anyone else. "When are you two going to start a family?" we heard all too often.
I sighed and closed my eyes, wishing I could block out the singing voices reminding me of what I longed for but couldn't have. "Joy to the world," they caroled in tones loud enough to pierce my defenses.
Clapping broke out over the sanctuary as the kids finished their final song. With sweeping bows and stifled giggles, the children scampered to a wide box in front of the pulpit and pulled from it sprigs of mistletoe. My throat closed as the children trotted toward the pews and presented their parents with the mistletoe. I dropped my gaze.
"M-Merry Christmas," a timid voice sounded from beside me a moment later. I looked up to see 8-year-old Caroline holding her piece of mistletoe toward me. "For you," she whispered, then hurried toward the door.
A strange mixture of sorrow and warmth flooded me. "Thank you," I choked, too quiet for her to hear me.
There, in my lap, lay the small piece of mistletoe. It was such a small gift, so simple, so plain. As simple, perhaps, as a baby wrapped in rags, lying in a feeding trough. As plain as the Son of God born in a stable full of animals. A gift announced, not to the movers and shakers of Bethlehem, but to a few Gentiles in the east and a bunch of shepherds working the night shift.
I held the mistletoe close to my heart. If animals and shepherds were remembered on the first Christmas, maybe the childless and the hurting were remembered this Christmas, too.
Perhaps God was telling me that Christ was born for people like me, for "have-nots" who, through the simple gift of Christ, are welcomed into the family of God.