Yes. She's Daddy's Girl.
She loves her Dad more than anyone in the universe.
When she was about 5, she took ballpoint pens and a sharpie marker, and drew lines and criss crosses all over her dollies.
"Stella! What did you do?! " I moaned. Her great-aunt had made this one, especially for her. And now literally EVERY doll in the house was colored on.
"Just like Daddy." Stella said, quietly smiling. "Tattoo just like my Daddy."
Autumn again; the last rose petals fell yesterday. Roses are so incredibly beautiful. They fill my garden with love and tranquility. My grandparents grew the most glorious roses in their city lot. Each rose had its own scent, its own shape, its own unique hue and personality. I spent many hours as a child, sitting on a flat stone, just watching those sweet, hybrid roses unfold. Grandma would come off the screen porch with the big metal watering can, and show me how to give them a daily drink. "Not too much. They have to have just the right amount if you want to see the perfect blooms.."
It was Grandma's rose garden, but Gramps tended it. It was his gift to his wife for almost fifty years. "Mulch is the secret to everything" he'd say. "You can't have flowers without compost." He crumbled up eggshells for those roses, he sprinkled spent coffee grounds. Even banana peels could never be thrown away in their home, because Gramps carefully chopped them up to nourish his wife's roses.
They were a lot of work.
And let's be honest: Most of the year, roses are just sticks with thorns. They're ugly. They scratch. They have beetles. You have to nurture, feed, weed, mulch, prune, water, de-bug. Much work for a few flowers. That's 90% Yuck for 10% Wonderful. Really? How can that be worth it?
I imagine that is just what God thinks of us. Each thorn, each dry stick... Is there really any hope here? Any potential? Does God keeps sending me this rotting compost for a reason?
The answer is Yes! Hope is in the thorns, Baby. Because all that work for the roses is worth it.
And you and I are worth it to God. Keep accepting that mulch, and all that pruning.
For you are a rose in his garden, and you are beautiful.
The costumes are back.
Every store flaunts its array of color and sparkle and pouf.
So... I was in a store, walking behind a mom and daughter.
The daughter, about age 5, was frustrated, saying "But I want to be a fairy!"
The mom, equally addled, kept handing her daughter costumes. A Pink Princessy Fairy. A Yellow Fairy dress. A Tinkerbell.
"No, Mom! A REAL fairy!"
I watched as the mom became more and more confused and desperate. "These ARE fairy costumes, dear. These are very expensive, beautiful fairy costumes. Choose one, before I lose my patience. You said you wanted to be a fairy, so be a Disney fairy!"
The girl's face fell. Mom just didn't understand. Mom was practical, realistic. Unimaginative.
"I know what a real fairy looks like," I said, smiling knowingly to the mom, as I walked past.
They both looked at me in surprise. And a bit of hope.
"Yes I do. My daughter used to play with fairies. She taught me that Real Fairies don't come from stores. They wear leaves and flowers and vines. If you want a real fairy costume, what you need is a tattered green t-shirt and some weeping willow branches. And some dandelions and daisies."
The five year old cheered. "Yes! Yes! Yes Mommy! That's what I mean!"
The mother gratefully sighed. "Thank you. That is much more affordable."
I left the store, still smiling.
Disney is great and all, don't get me wrong. But look inside your own kids' imaginations.
That's where the Real Fairies live.
The kids sometimes call me Caractacus Potts... Crazy inventive Chitty Chitty Bang Bang guy. When the beloved, desperately important coffee pot shattered last night, I needed to be inventive. Too late to buy another coffee maker... too heavily reliant upon caffeine to go without. Old tea pot, plastic lid, and small ice cream scoop. Ta da! It works! Cheers!
Snowflakes swirled softly, descending on a peaceful scene of Mary, Joseph, and newborn Jesus, cradled in a manger. Peace and serenity reigned there in the snow globe, on the shelf. But that was just a snow globe. I turned away. Lights flashed, blinking Christmasy red, green, blue, yellow. These lights emanated not from a Christmas tree, but from a heart monitor, I.V. drip, bili blanket, feeding tube, oxygen tent. My newborn baby laid in the neonatal intensive care unit of a downtown hospital, cradled in an incubator. Rather than peppermint and gingerbread, I smelled only my own fear.
We named her Stella Lucille. Born just a few days earlier, her name meant “Star Light,” for the star of Bethlehem that showed the wise men the way to Jesus. But our little star couldn’t breathe or eat on her own. I held her flaccid, tiny body in my arms, after her birth. Though she was swaddled in a warm blanket, her head flopped back like a rag doll. She was cold, so cold. Her fingers and mouth slowly turned purple, then blue. Within minutes, a small army of specialists and nurses had whisked her away from me. We now knew that she had three holes in her heart, and Down Syndrome.
Merry Christmas, right? My other small children waited for me at home. We’d planned it all out, this baby was the biggest, most exciting Christmas present for our family. Everyone waited for her. There was a dolly cradle under the Christmas tree, where we’d planned to lay our newborn for a Christmas family photo. We would light the candles in our Advent wreath, sing carols by the warm glow of candlelight and Christmas tree lights, and celebrate the births of baby Jesus and baby Stella. Then, off to Christmas Eve Mass with my extended family. After Mass, we had planned to crowd into Grandma’s house with all the relatives, eat Christmas dinner, and enjoy the celebration with cousins, aunts, uncles and siblings until late into the night. Even an old family friend would make his annual Santa Claus appearance, after supper. He’d come in his stuffed red velvet suit, bells jingling, handing out gifts to all the children, laughing his Ho Ho Ho’s, calling each child by name and surprising them with the tidbits and details he knew about their antics. This was how we wanted Christmas to be.
But, Stella wasn’t coming home. I had been discharged from the hospital that morning, but I couldn’t bear to go home without her. Like Santa, I wore my own whale-sized, post partum velvety green Christmas outfit. My other children waited for me. But I didn’t go home for the family photo. The cradle under the tree remained empty, and my heart remained filled with fear. My husband arrived, the nurses assured me my baby would be safe and cared for. But I just couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t leave my helpless, weak daughter alone without someone watching over her.
“The other kids need you,” coaxed my husband, Doug. “We have just a little more time here, then you have to leave, for their sake.”
My heart felt torn in pieces. I caressed Stella’s soft exposed arm with my finger.
“God,” I prayed silently. “help me to trust you with her.”
Doug gently loosened my fingers on my baby’s arm. “It’s time.”
My tears welled up inside, as Doug escorted me out of the NICU. The fear of the unknown, the fear of abandoning her when she needed me, the fear of being abandoned by God surged in my heart, threatening to burst through as we approached the hospital’s security exit door. I forced my legs forward. “God! Send an angel to help me through that door!” I pleaded.
Doug’s hand rose to push the locked handle, when suddenly, a familiar, smiling face loomed close on the other side, peering through the window into the unit. Startled, we opened the door to find our very own Santa Claus, standing sheepishly in the hall with his wife. “I don’t want to intrude on your privacy,” he began, “But I came to see Stella so I could tell your other kids that Stella got the first present on Christmas Eve.”
How quickly God can turn our sorrows to joy. “Come and see her! You’ll be her first visitor ever.” My smile was genuine, and we ushered Santa back to the NICU.
“Family only.” The nurse at the desk arched her eyebrow at us.
“That’s all right, I’m his brother!” Santa replied, patting my husband on the back.
“Oh, I’m so glad!” the nurse smiled. “Welcome, Santa!”
“Ho, Ho Ho!” Santa chuckled, as we magically walked back through the doors.
Once inside the NICU, he sat in the rocker, next to her incubator, whispering hushed Christmas secrets that only Stella and Santa could share. Catching a glimpse of the snow globe behind them, I beamed. In sharing the joy of her birth with Santa and his wife, a bond was forming. A bond of trust between God, who answered my prayer, and Stella, a child who never would be alone.
God had sent me his angel for whom I prayed, dressed up as Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. I began to realize that even though the circumstances were grim, even when nothing goes as we planned it, and we feel abandoned and alone, God is still with us. He watches over us, and He has a plan.
A little later, we left the hospital. Real-life snowflakes swirled, softly descending on Doug and me as we made our way through the starlit parking lot. The hush of a Silent Night surrounded us, enclosing our family in a circle of trust, just like that snow globe. Peace and serenity grew in my heart, like the newborn faith I felt. I was ready to celebrate Christmas Mass with my family.
And Stella Lucille, our little star of Bethlehem, began to lead us on a journey toward trusting God. She truly was our family’s best Christmas gift, though perhaps not in the way we, ourselves, had planned.
And that Christmas Eve night, when I felt so afraid and alone, God sent Santa Claus to help us find our way.