I was upstairs, helping the girls clean their rooms. For as rosy as I am, I'll quickly be honest and admit this is my least favorite task. The girls have BIG imaginations and I'm ever so thankful. But this also means things tucked into nooks and crannies, piles of pillows and blankets that are an "animal rescue center", and various other set-ups strewn about the floor. Every few days, it just has to be tidied a bit. Brett was home because it was a Sunday and suddenly I heard "Sara, come look at this." My husband is a man of few words, so when he does talk I listen! I could tell by the tone of his voice something fairly urgent was needing my attention.
I started down the stairs and smiled to myself, because there in front of our warm fire, was a baby calf. This certainly wouldn't be the first time Brett has tended a baby calf, but seeing it in front of the fire felt different. A few minutes passed with conversation about this red baby and then as Brett headed out the door to buy some formula I grabbed my camera and spent some time with this sweet Christmas calf. It was ever so weak, but I inwardly assured myself and the calf both that the warm fire and bottles of formula would do the trick. I could picture the calf being nursed back to health and kicking up its heels in no time. Maybe even becoming as active and naughty as our last calf who used my front porch as a bathroom!
I posted a photo of our Christmas calf on Instagram and felt a collective "awww" fall from the lips of people near and far. Everyone adored the fuzzy, cozy calf in front of the fire and began imagining what fun it would be for the girls to have a Christmas calf. As the seconds, minutes, and then hours began to tick-tock on the clock I became very aware the calf just wasn't getting better. Brett gave it bottle after bottle, patiently sitting by it and trying so desperately to nurse it back to health. He stood the little Christmas calf up, only to watch it fall into a sad heap on the floor. The weakness had just sunk too deep into its bones. I began to realize, this one probably wasn't going to make it.
I've always said I make a really terrible farm wife. I think weeds are beautiful, I picture the pastures as photo shoots, and I like to make up stories about the cows. I also get my heart involved in places you're simply not supposed to on a farm, particularly with the little calves. We continued to keep an eye on our Christmas calf for another day or so and then Brett had to take it back to its mama. I silently said goodbye and the wheels in my mind started turning. Why was this particular calf so sad for me? What about it pulled my heart strings harder than most? Why were tears threatening to pool in my brown eyes over this red calf?
I suppose the truth is it reminded me so much of real life this Christmas season. Front and center on so many photographs and social media sites things look cozy and warm, nearly perfect. Cookies are stacked next to creatively decorated trees, while piles of packages nestle beside warm fires. Cups of hot chocolate satisfy our sweet tooth, while tiny Christmas lights add an extra twinkle to our eyes. There are light displays to be seen, crafts to make, and more happiness to be had than any other time of the year, right?
Except not. Just as our Christmas calf evoked a gesture of joy from those near and far, while the scene inside our house was telling a completely different story, this Christmas feels both bitter and sweet. Behind the picture-perfect scenes of my own life and others near to me, I know the true story of sadness, hard situations, and weakness that has just sunk too deep into bones. On the one hand I'm ever so thankful for things like Christmas movies, candy canes, baking, and beautiful light displays because while they can't erase the bitter taste of life, they sure can sweeten it a bit.
On the other hand it feels a bit tough and untruthful to simply partake in the cozy Christmas calf stories of the world, without leaning in closer to tell the whole truth. The night in Bethlehem reminds me of the Christmas calf, in a very small way. From our modern-day perspective we peer into the manger scene, eyes aglow. We sing carol after carol about the wondrous night Christ was born, about the calm and bright night. And truly it WAS wondrous! Our Savior, our Healer, our own grace for the bitter and sweet, all swaddled and snug. But I can't help but wonder if there was more behind-the-scenes real life to this scene than we allow ourselves to think about. I wonder what raw emotions Mary felt, what weakness, if any, accompanied the wonderful the night Christ was born. I wonder if it's ok in God's eyes and maybe even holy to acknowledge both the bitter and sweet this Christmas season. I think it is. For in growing in my relationship with Christ and others, I must also grow in authenticity. The blog is no different. There is a certain kind of deeply cemented love that comes with baring our souls, an understanding that happens when you lock eyes with someone who knows your every battle and they've stayed to fight it alongside you. Friends, I've looked too many people in the eyes and said "I'm so, so, so sorry" this Christmas to simply gloss over the less than picture-perfect moments that threaten to become milestones we simply don't want to remember.
This Christmas maybe your heart is light, maybe it feels too heavy to bear, or maybe you're like me and it's somewhere in-between. Whatever the case, I'm praying for you to feel nurtured, loved, and known. I'm praying that you'll have a soft place to land when your soul has weathered too many storms. That just like our Christmas calf you'll have at least one soul to nurture your body and sit you next to a warm fire, eyes meeting yours and willing you to be strong.
Our Christmas calf may not have made it. But you will. How do I know? Because if you peer way down into the manger you don't just see a night of labor or no place to stay, you see a tiny baby that would forever change our lives. You see a miracle. You see Jesus, a Savior who experienced life as we do, so that he could be our own soft place to land. Bethlehem was certainly a milestone we want to remember. It may not have looked as picture-perfect as we imagine these days, but it was holy mixed with hard. It was wise men bearing gifts and today it's the gift of a beautiful sunset, the encouragement from a friend or a stranger, the comfort of a cozy cup of tea.
It's this: "But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God." (Luke 1:30) and the miracle that our lives are. We are living, breathing miracles. As I leaned in close to tell a friend recently-"Your story isn't over yet." Perhaps you're like Mary was, wondering how in the world she would deal with delivering the king of the world, with literally no place to stay. Perhaps your story isn't matching up with what you're seeing around you, or it appears everyone else's story is much rosier than yours. Take a deep breath and do not be afraid. Embrace both the holy and the hard, and know that you are so very loved and valued. That is my grown-up Christmas list, for each and every one of you to take hold of that. I'm right there with you, gazing into the pink sky at night, feeling God's love wash over all the hard bits of life, feeling so very loved and like Heaven is on our side.