Eleven.

Holding IanMy family carefully hung each of Ian’s ornaments, placing his treasured, tacky yellow Big Bird at the very top of the tree, right next to the angel. The ornament is an eyesore that I’ve always hated and hidden on the back of the tree when Ian wasn’t looking, but this year I allowed Big Bird a place of prominence. The absurd irreverence of Big Bird and an antique angel adorning the top of our tree together belied the heaviness that everybody felt.

Christmas hurt.

Unwrapping presents without Ian felt hollow—joy is elusive when the only thing in the whole world that you want is for a curly head to burst through the front door. He has been gone for eleven months today, and eleven months later I am still quite certain that at any moment, Ian will come back. Eleven months later, my heart still adamantly refuses to believe that he could really be gone. There are brief moments when understanding begins to dawn, and my heart starts to comprehend that there will be no more Christmas mornings with my brother. No more birthday candles, no more kitchen dances, no more songs. Not here. And suddenly, it is once again February 27th, and I am stumbling away from my little brother’s body all over again.

Grief feels like sprinting exhausted through a marathon, only to discover at the finish line with gasping lungs and screaming legs that somehow, you haven’t even started yet. Eleven months later, I find myself still at the very beginning of grief, wondering what to do.

Over Christmas, I found myself thinking a lot about Mary. Mary, who knew with absolute certainty that God had favored and chosen her. [After all, He’d sent an angel to tell her just that.] How must she have felt after arriving in Bethlehem at long last, only to discover that there wasn’t so much as a place for her to stay?

I’d always glossed over the stable, but this year was different. I pictured her. Shaking, too exhausted to stand. Filthy from her journey to Bethlehem. Emotionally spent from nine swollen months of a watching community disdainfully condemning her for a crime that she hadn’t committed.

God, after all of this, not so much as a place to stay? Really?

How must she have felt as labor wracked her body? God, this is YOUR child! And he’s being born into filth! Do you care? Do you see?

I wonder if she felt forgotten.

I wondered why God chose it that way. Why He sent His precious Son to be born into filth when it would have been such a small thing to give Mary a comfortable place to deliver. One break for the scared teen aged girl who had so carefully carried the God of the Universe inside of her all of those months.

I thought about Ian. I closed my eyes and pictured my Mama holding his swollen hand and cradling his bald head in the ICU. God, do you care? Do you see?

I wonder if maybe, God orchestrated his Son’s birth to be in a dirty barn as a gentle reminder that even when the world feels like it is spinning madly out of control, it isn’t. He sees. He’s present. He understands. There would be no sterile, safe place for His baby, just as there would be none for so many of our babies that followed. His Son would later be broken, just as so many of ours would. And 2,000 years later when a Mama cried in sterile white room over her broken son, His heart would bleed and crack and ache with hers because He would understand.

Of course He hadn’t forgotten Mary. He hasn’t forgotten us, either.

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