Luke 2:10-11 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!
Three days before Christmas I found myself panicking about all that was left to be done. There were gifts to be wrapped and sweets to be baked and groceries to be bought. At the risk of fighting a crowd, I went to the Fort Belvoir commissary at 7pm on Saturday night. As I drove up I was delighted to find the parking lot nearly empty. Unfortunately, the shelves inside were also empty. They were completely out of potatoes. Seriously? How does a grocery store run out of potatoes?
As I was checking out I was a little preoccupied with thoughts about having to go to another grocery store and my drippy nose. Off topic: Am I the only person whose nose decides to start dripping at the moments when it’s not possible for you to wipe it?
Anyway, in the midst of wondering if the cashier could see the snot dripping out of my nose and dreading another shopping venture, I caught a glimpse of the man bagging my groceries. He appeared to be in his seventies and I automatically assumed that he was a Vietnam veteran. As quickly as I began to wonder how a veteran could end up bagging groceries at the local military base for tips, I dismissed the thought that he was a veteran. I realized that he was ritualistically tapping the bags and feeling the surface of every item he bagged. He was also mumbling under his breath and not making eye contact. Like any Mom with two stimmers at home would do, I automatically diagnosed him on the autism spectrum.
I have been a commissary-shopping military spouse for almost 19 years. If you’re a numbers person, that’s roughly 2000 commissary trips. I can’t remember a single one of those trips where the bagger didn’t attempt to strike up a conversation on the way to my vehicle. Not until Saturday night. The only sounds coming from the man consisted of mumbling under his breath in the same way Seth does when he’s attempting to control his “pretend”.
As he loaded my groceries into the back of my car he began to speak out-loud, to himself. He was telling himself where to put the bags. He was speaking to himself in English, but with an accent that screamed eastern Europe. I listened for a minute, stepped closer, and asked, “Where are you from?” Without looking at me he responded, “Bulgaria. It’s in Europe.” Me~ “I know. My daughter is from Serbia. We adopted her two years ago.” He lifted his head, made eye contact and tears begin to drip down his cheeks. As the tears in my own eyes threatened to spill over, I blurted out, “She’s autistic.” His weeping turned to heart-wrenching sobs as he cried out, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”
I wish I could say that we stood there talking for hours and that I learned his whole life story and that I knew what happened to him that led him to be so moved by the fact that we adopted Sofija. But none of that happened. He broke eye contact and quickly walked away after I slipped a tip into his hand. I then climbed into my driver’s seat and fell to pieces.
I firmly believe that you should never let a man cry alone. Since he ran off before I could get a good cry in with him, I decided to call my dear hubby and see if he would join in my sob-fest. He laughed and reminded me that I know where the man works and that I could probably go back and find him later. Thanks, DH. I WILL be stalking the old Bulgarian stimmer. I must know his story.
Three grocery stores, hours of wrapping, and two days of cooking, caroling, and eating later, Seth threw my bedroom door open and screamed, “Merry Christmas! Come open presents!” I’m pretty sure I moaned and told him to go away and come back in an hour. He did go away, but he was back in less than ten minutes to announce that he had woken up all of his siblings and that they were all waiting for us. Thanks for being obedient and for showing compassion for the fact that your parents were up until 3AM, Seth. Thanks a lot.
I held back tears as I walked into the living room. This Christmas was a bitter-sweet. My first baby girl shares a birthday with Jesus. This Christmas Jesus turned 2012 and my baby girl turned 18. She can legally vote, sign a contract, buy a lottery ticket, and join the military. The list of evils in this world that her Daddy and I can protect her from just grew much smaller. On top of my little girl becoming a woman, I had tears in my eyes over the absence of so many people I love. The first call of the day on Christmas has always come from MawMaw. There was no phone call today. Every single gift under the tree this year was purchased by the six people who live in our house or by my daughter’s boyfriend. The guest room was empty. There were no personal cards from MawMaw on the Christmas tree and there was very little wrapped up underneath it. This Christmas made me sad.
You see… I was so wrapped up in all that was missing this Christmas that it was really easy to forget all that was here.
At the end of the day, after making a birthday cake and celebrating my daughter, I sat down and read the Christmas story in the Bible. We’ve read it several times over the last few days, but this time I read it in search of joy. …but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring GREAT JOY to all the people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! ~ I’m pretty sure I’m one of “the all”. I’m pretty sure that you are too.
Great. Jesus’ birth is supposed to bring me a little joy and peace. So why the heck was I so sad on the day that is set aside to celebrate Jesus’ birth? I wish I could say that reading that verse brought me overwhelming joy and that I totally got over the fact that my Mom and her parents are no longer alive. Or that I stopped being sad that none of our extended family was with us to celebrate Christmas or my daughter’s birthday. I wish I could say that today did not leave me with the feeling that our family has become very small. But I can’t.
After reading the actual account of Jesus’ birth, I went back to the book of Isaiah and read what was prophesied about Jesus before he was born.
Isaiah 9:1,6 Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever…For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
2012 is almost over. The darkness and despair that this year has held WILL pass. My Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and the Prince of my Peace was born. Not only do we celebrate his birthday today (yes, I know it’s not possible that He was born in December), but God also gave me the most amazing little girl on Christmas. And this Christmas, she still lives at home. This Christmas there aren’t gifts still sitting under the tree for Sofija. This Christmas, Sofija is not still waiting in Serbia for a family to call her own. This Christmas, my husband was lying next to me in bed when Seth threw our door open. This year, he isn’t in Iraq or Afghanistan or some other far away land celebrating the births of Jesus and his daughter without his family. No matter how small our family felt this Christmas, we were all together. And… this Christmas I know without a doubt that everyone in this house knows what Christmas is all about.
So, just like I’ve been choosing hope for the last couple of months, I’m choosing the joy and peace that were promised to me. Oh yeah… I’m also choosing to make it my mission to befriend the 70-something Bulgarian autistic man at the commissary.