“C’mon, it looks pretty down here.”
The room—once filled with giggles and chatter—was still. The quiet must have crept in while I’d been preoccupied with picking up doll clothes, straightening books, and restoring order to a once spotless house. I didn’t notice, until I saw her curled up at the foot of the Christmas tree.
Mary lie there, wilted from her simply electrifying performance: hours of directing make-believe action, out-singing Belle and the cup and the Beast two times through, and, all the while, charming her way into my heart.
I stayed with Mary while her mom went to dinner with dad, and, later, sang at Midnight Mass. I’d never heard her sing, but people said that she, too, gave an electrifying performance. When she lifted Ave Maria to the heavens, it sifted back down to sooth everyone who gathered there.
And I’d been entrusted with the care of her little girl on Christmas eve.
Mary was clever. While angelic in appearance, she found conning me out of extra dessert or negotiating a later bedtime thrilling pursuits. She had a keen sense of humor, too. Her eyes sparkled as she persisted in bantering me all night long. I’d respond, much to her delight, with pursed lips and furrowed brow, folding my arms as I pretended to be deeply offended. When I played along and dished up a particularly funny comeback, she’d gasp for air and snort, breaking into a giggling fit.
Some moms are given children who you can’t help but love instantly. And some moms are given children who are complicated and need a little more figuring out. In Mary, her mom was given both.
The light in her eyes, the quick wit, and the lilting songs emanated from a frail, little body. Instead of arms that reached effortlessly for her own cookies, her hands snaked awkwardly through the air. Instead of running and skipping and dancing through life, her legs were too weak to stand.
To be deprived in such a way. To never roll a snow man or carve out a fort. To be an angel to others but unable to simply make an angel in the snow. And yet, to still bring so much joy and laughter into the world. I felt honored to enjoy this evening with a child who could do such a marvelous thing.
That Mary’s mom had entrusted me with her little girl’s care paled in comparison with the true wonder of this evening. Mary’s mom had entrusted her daughter to me—as a gift.
Later in the evening, the house was revived with chattering and giggling during Mary’s bedtime routine. Who could have so much fun while wrestling into pajamas even though it required two sets of hands? And with brushing teeth when it was an awkward struggle between weak arms and a bobbing head?
After the umpteenth request for just a little, bitty glass of water, Mary snuggled into her blankets and then, the night grew quiet.
I turned off the lamp and sat in the living room under the glow from the lights on the tree.
I could hear Mary’s voice, C’mon, it looks pretty down here.
And I prayed: Lord, give me a heart that sees beauty, even when I’m brought low. Let me overcome hardship and disappointment so that I can be a gift to Your world. May I be that girl, looking up to the Light, who carries joy and laughter wherever I go.
I’ve never looked at a Christmas tree–or Ave Maria–the same way since.
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