It was a homily I almost missed as the words swirled and my mind wandered this past Sunday, but something caught my ears and pulled me back in. Father reminded us that Christmas comes at the darkest time of year as a light to us in the darkness. It got me to thinking about how we each respond to that light because although the theological truths manifest in Christmas are magnificent, how we put skin onto that reality and live hope in our own lives can seem limited or feeble at times. Each person and family has unique stories, and mine isn’t any better than anyone else’s but please allow me to share it this blessed Christmas Day.
When my daughter was very little, she lagged behind in ability and couldn’t even sit up at eight months old. We worried that there was a terrible disease afoot, but were relieved to learn that she had a simple case of truncal weakness. We were cautioned to not hold out hopes that she would ever be the “star” on any sports team. I don’t like sports so that didn’t bother me and into life we happily went with her and her two older brothers. When she was in second grade, she went to see a local Christmas production of The Nutcracker. Years later she told me that on that day she made it a goal to someday be one of the “Dolls” in the party scene.
In third grade she began to study dance and had her debut as one of many “Angels” in The Nutcracker (one of those little kids’ parts where no real dancing happens but everyone thinks the kids are cute). She kept at it and was a Mouse, a Soldier and on up the line. She nearly quit dance when she was told she wouldn’t be allowed to dance on pointe with her peers. Another year they told her she was going to be held back. All along she had to work harder than others just to keep up with the pack. High school came and she finally danced on point, and did pretty well, but by then she was taller than her peers and got stuck in the back of the crowd.
In her junior year of high school, her father died suddenly and she began a difficult time in life. There was one ballet teacher, however, who was glad to see her return to class soon after her devastation. Dancing The Nutcracker that year with an empty seat where her dad should have been was gut-wrenching. By the end of her junior year, the stress of grief combined with an intense state-mandated testing regimen pushed her beyond her capacity to cope. She woke up one morning with a bad case of Bell’s Palsy. The right side of her face was paralyzed. The pediatrician said she should be better in a month, and possibly like the last teen treated in that office, all healed in three months. It didn’t happen though. She didn’t even start to improve for three or four months and by six months she still had residual effects. She continued her waitressing job even though her condition made it challenging for her to work with strangers.
Hearing the neurologist tell her in November that the residual deficits were likely permanent was awful. That news was made significantly worse because she knew that a few floors above her, in the same University Medical complex we went to for specialized care, one of her two best friends also had a partially paralyzed face and was just coming out of a coma after a life threatening injury. My daughter’s symptoms worsened from the added stress of knowing her her friend’s life hung in the balance. Our sadness was tempered with boundless thankfulness that her friend had survived at all, so many people prayed for her survival and recovery.
I tell this story because this past weekend my daughter danced a solo in The Nutcracker party scene as the “Harlequin Doll”. With all those reasons to despair, past and present, she did not lose her hope.
Parents were invited to write messages to their children in the show program, and I wrote that her solo would be popular in Heaven because her dad would make everyone stop and join him to watch her dance. Knowing that her dad was safe with his Heavenly Father gave me the strength to enjoy the good and endure the bad and I believe it did for her as well. We needed Divine Hope and we got it.
Borrowing some words from a country song I share my Christmas wish for all of you. When things are bad and you are tempted to despair, may you look to our Father in Heaven for real hope and when you find it, I hope you dance.