I was talking to a friend recently, and she reminded me of one of my favorite “Abby and Ellie” stories. I want to share it with you in the hopes that it brings a big smile to your face, and that you will have a chance to know my girls a little bit better.
On December 2nd, 2006, the girls turned 4. We decided that instead of a traditional birthday party, we would take an opportunity to teach them about sacrifice and generosity in a very concrete way. We asked guests to choose several “small-cost” items instead of gifts, and at the party, we packaged them all up as a group and later sent them to an orphanage in Africa. My in-laws are missionaries in Congo (Todd grew up there), and we thought that Abby and Ellie were at a level of understanding that would allow them to experience this as a true offering. It was an amazing night. The girls had so much fun while our house overflowed with friends and giving that I really don’t think they noticed there were no gifts for them.
Fast-forward a few weeks. It was almost Christmas Day, and we decided to do some last minute shopping. I wasn’t even going to bother trying for the “Santa’s Lap” photo, due largely in part to the fact that we had made the mistake of going to the closest mall the year prior, and had gotten stuck with the chain-smoking Santa who weighed 115 pounds and decided that a good way to get children to like you is to run after them from behind and tickle them while laughing like a deranged jack-in-the-box. If you live in Nashville, you know the mall and the Santa I am referring to. My children are still convinced that the reindeer need to be fed every 20 minutes and that their food smells like Jack Daniels. We had to explain that he was a “helper,” and would most certainly not be popping into our chimney on Christmas Eve.
As we walked around the upper floor of the mall, Abby and Ellie spotted Santa downstairs. They stared at him for a few minutes and then (much to our great surprise), announced that they would like to meet him. Todd and I stared at each other. Not only was there about an hour’s wait, but they weren’t exactly “camera ready.” But, if they wanted to meet the man, we weren’t going to stop them. If you know them, you understand why this is a big deal. They practically dissolved when the Chick-Fil-A cow approached them with a balloon, and the Easter Bunny at our local Easter Egg Hunt didn’t make it closer than 20 feet from us before he started calculating therapy bills.
The kid standing behind me in line had the kind of mom that came prepared. He was decked out in this little corduroy jumper with a giant hand-sewn reindeer face on the chest and real jingle bells on his antlers. Every step we took, he jingled menacingly while I stared at my children’s uncombed hair and ripped jeans.
And then, in my moment of feeling like the loser mom who didn’t create a fashion statement for the occasion, Abby’s voice broke out above the crowd as we practiced what they were going to say to Santa Claus.
“I am going to tell him that I don’t want any toys. I want him to give mine to the poor kids instead.” She stared at me intently, like a girl who has made up her mind. My heart almost burst out of my chest.
She had redeemed me. I shot a glance at the mom behind me, confirming my new status as queen of the line.
I bet bell-boy doesn’t have a world view.
Smugly (and oh, how Jesus loves this attitude…), I made my way through the line, pondering future nobel prizes and humanitarian work until the moment came to pass the red and gold rope. Abby had been practicing her speech under her breath while we waited, and now had it well-planned. We were ready.
Places, everyone. My kid is about to make Santa history.
At first, she hesitated. After a little prodding, she edged her way to the elf-lady and let her escort her to the big chair. She climbed up and looked at us, starting to panic. He was trying to reassure her as he showed her his stash of candy canes and talked about Rudolph. She wasn’t listening.
“Abby, you practiced. Go ahead! Tell Santa what you want!” She looked at me and did the thing with her mouth that means there are tears and screaming on the way, and then, she did the last thing I ever imagined. She raised herself up, taller than she probably felt, and she looked Santa dead in the eye. That’s it Abby. Don’t give up now! You made it through the last hour and now is your chance to make a difference!
I felt like you could hear a pin drop when her little voice finally spoke. My Abby. My sweet, giving, caring, ever compassionate and selfless…
“I want a pink tutu. And I want sparkle ballet shoes.”
My jaw hit the floor. It was loud and it wasn’t over.
“And I want the purple barbie with the wings, and the movie about the dogs that can talk, and the tea set that is made of real china, and…”
Darn those reindeer jingles. Now they were mocking me.
Truth be told, I don’t remember the specific list of everything that she asked for. I am quite certain that Santa himself couldn’t keep up. I remember a flash going off and paying about $40 for a picture that still hangs in our playroom, reminding me of that moment. I asked Abby why she had changed her mind at the last minute and she said that she didn’t know.
I have laughed my way through this entire post. I have always loved this image I carry of God as a director of sorts. He always knows what is going to come next, but He must just pop a bag of popcorn every now and then and watch it unfold below Him like a great movie.
Here is what He taught me then, and continues to teach me as I walk this narrow road.
It is one thing to be waiting in line, lost in a sea of faces and noise, formulating a good plan for how you are going to do things when the moment comes.
It is another thing altogether to be sitting on His lap.
There are moments in all of our lives where we have to put the rubber to the road. We have to look Him in the face and rest in the chaos that He has chosen to be our story. And we have to remember that we aren’t that different from a four year old who just realized that what her heart wants in that moment doesn’t line up with the big plan she had. There is something about asking Santa for toys that just makes sense. It makes sense the way that asking God for a healthy baby makes sense. It’s His job. Miracles have been His business for thousands of years. There have been many, many times on this journey that I have cried out for mercy, not thinking about the eternal consequences or the implications of what this meant for my faith. I just want my baby. I want her breath and her heart and her fingernails. Forget the whole “bigger picture” thing. I’m here with you, looking at you, and I know you can heal her. Do it. That’s what I want.
Every day I have to remind myself that if God chooses another way for Audrey, I will be at peace because it is what my great Lord has ordained. I want this to invade my thoughts, to lift me from despair, to allow me press into Him with full weight. I want to really be able to curl up here and forget what I want and just enjoy and trust Him because He lets me get this close to Him.
I have an ultrasound tomorrow, and I feel anxious about it. Patti’s supervisor will be scanning me, and I am praying that we will learn more about our girl. It is at 1:00, and then I go for an OB visit directly afterward to discuss the latest developments in her life. I know that your prayers will go before me, and will fill that dark room with hope that belies medicine. Thank you in advance for that offering on our behalf. As always, we are humbled and grateful for each of you…I will post soon to let you know how my appointment goes.