I love to sing. I sing in the kitchen and in the car. I sing as I mop and as I dress. I dictate instructions to my children in song – sometimes changing the key midstream to see if anyone’s paying attention. You don’t want me all up-in-your-business singing “you came from my womb, now clean up your room, I’ll fill you with doom if you refuse me,” and don’t think my daughter can’t whip out some do-re-me action on a dime. That’s hard-core training, people. I can’t wait until my daughter is in junior high so she can fill up her little journal about how her mother is a total lunatic and is so totally unaware of how annoying she is. Oh I know, sweetheart. It’s all part of my master plan of totally family domination. Breaking down spirits with excessive vibrato.
Given my natural affinity for song, however, I was naturally pumped to sing a solo at Christmas eve service. I wore black and had a wonderful pianist and stood in front of my church congregation, candles-a-ready, and began. I was a bit worried about my lip gloss. Priorities, you know. But it all started out fine. It was calm and serene, and after a moment, people started to smile and close their eyes. It was a story told long ago, about a child born of Mary. A song of peace and new birth. About pure hearts and renewed spirits. A song of –
Out of nowhere, I hear a bellowing cry from the back of the church. A man is practically falling over himself to escape from the aisle with a child in his arms. A child who happens to be my son. After getting a glimpse of his mother at the front of the church, standing alone with a spotlight on her face, he decides to declare to the people sitting around, and the old-folks home next door, and to the Burger King down the street, that his mother is there. In case they didn’t notice.
“Ma MAAAAAAAAA!” he shrieks with delight. “Hi Mama! Hi Mama!” He is fervently waving with both hands in the air. He must think I can’t hear him, although the room is silent except for my voice and you can literally hear fabric rub together when someone crosses their legs. He bumps the volume up a bit. “Mamaaa! Mama SINGGGGG!” He is thrilled at my existence, even though I just saw him five minutes ago. I can see my husband apologize to someone as he barrels past knees and blazers and candles on his way out the door.
I try to remain calm. If Oleta Adams sang this song in front of thousands, I can surely keep it together as my husband takes my screaming son into the foyer. Where, as it turns out, he sees me again on the video screens and starts with a renewed round of heartfelt hellos and fervent waving.
All of a sudden, out of embarrassment or distraction, I lost my place. I was in the middle of a stanza about finding inner peace when I had a panic attack. I drew out the note, ran through a mental checklist of oh crap, where’s the coda and I freaking sang that part already and I’m screwed, and my kind accompanist just slowed things down like the whole thing was planned. I smiled and turned the page, which made no sense since it was the wrong page to begin with. I’m pretty sure I did some sort of corny hand gesture. Awesome. My husband will never let me live that one down.
I had exactly four beats to make a decision, so I just picked right back up, singing the exact same thing I did before, making up additional words when necessary. My daughter, now parent free, is standing in her beautiful Christmas dress at the back of the church just waving at me. She is beaming with pride. She doesn’t know I’m sweating and hoping no one noticed I repeated the entire second verse and praying for the song to end. It finally did, and I sat down with a solemn heart. What a waste, I thought.
But my family was so proud, and my husband laughed so hard, and when it was all said and done I felt that this is what the Christmas story is all about, anyway. It’s not calm and morose and black and perfect. Birth isn’t filled with candles and sweet syrupy lyrics and everyone sitting around in navy blazers.
Birth is crying and screaming and pushing and sweating. It’s seeing a part of God come out in human form in front of you. Your heart is bursting like a water balloon and you feel surrounded and sustained by pure, unaltered, unabashed joy. Joy at living. Joy at this child you created. Joy at seeing someone you love in front of you, not caring how your reaction looks to the world around you. Thank God for our son, who reminded me of this. Thank God for Jesus, born screaming out the love of God and not caring who heard it. And thank God for Mary, who probably thought she was screwing it all up. But she wasn’t.
And that’s the best lesson of them all.