I hold the dolls that my daughters’ grandparents sent in packages for her for Christmas, trying to figure out how to wrap them. Wrapping paper? Gift bags? It’s about time my little girl had something to play with besides her brothers’ airplanes.
The dolls remind me of Sue Sue. She’s the doll my aunt made for me, and that is stored far away in my parents’ basement, her cloth face smudged with dirty kisses from my childhood.
She was a Christmas present from the aunt whose laughter rang throughout my grandparents’ house on that long ago cold Missouri Christmas Eve. I don’t remember how old I was, or where I lived at the time. Kansas maybe? Kentucky? Or was it Virginia? My older sister, Jen, and I tried to sleep on the pull out couch in a room on the other side of the grownup late night party.
But I didn’t want to sleep, enjoying that blissful anticipation, cozy with the sounds of happiness and loved ones behind magical closed doors lined with golden light. The excitement of that night before Christmas marked my memory forever.
Sue Sue became my almost life-size friend the next day. My sister got the doll house made by our uncle. And we swam in a sea of colored wrapping paper after receiving gifts now long forgotten.
That was the Christmas before my aunt and uncle got divorced. Before a lot of things, really. Before I understood about abuse and death and suicide and war. That was back when my Army soldier dad could defeat all my enemies. Back when Mom’s hugs covered all my hurts. Back when Grandma could still cook her amazing chocolate pudding. Before she forgot where I lived or that I have kids.
Today I talked with an Indonesian friend of mine from back in Bandung, my neighbor during language school on the island of Java. Her husband beat her back then, then divorced her after I moved here, and still threatens her, hits her, steals from her.
I’ve known her for seven years, our relationship marking the length of time I’ve been in this country that both fills and breaks my heart. I’ve tried different things to help her—some small, others I thought were big enough to solve the problem. Nothing seems to help. Before she hung up, she simply wished me, “Merry Christmas” through tears that I can’t wipe from this distant island, far from hers.
Sometimes I long, no—ache—for the Befores—before I knew her and saw her unsolvable bruises. Before I wished for no power outages for Christmas. Before I decided to live in a culture so different from my own, making mistakes covered in tropical sweat, trying so hard and still, sometimes, unable to make a difference.
But I believe with the pieces of my heart broken over and over through the years in the power of God’s hope in the After. The forgiveness given after sin hurts. The grace poured out after life fails. The hope promised after death steals.
So, this Christmas, even as I enjoy my kids’ magical Christmas sent in boxes and wrapped in flat papered snowmen and snowflakes, I embrace the bigger magic of His Saving After. Will you join me in this hope?
photo credit, chefranden