BY: Michele Cushatt
Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.
I stood in the back of the church, bouncing my seven-month-old son while enthusiastically singing Christmas carols. I was one of nearly one hundred brave souls who'd ventured out in the winter storm to attend the Christmas Eve candlelight service. I wouldn't have missed it for the world. This was my first Christmas as a mother, and the significance was not lost on my feminine emotions. Interwoven throughout the season's celebrations were constant thoughts of my new family. It was a truly precious time, and I absorbed every smell, every sound and every sight, impressing the memories indelibly on my heart.
Partway through the service, and in the middle of a holy rendering of "Silent Night," I noticed a family: mom and dad on opposite ends with two very young boys sandwiched in-between. The boys were so very small, not more than four or five and full of wiggles and giggles. The grown-ups, sitting much like armed guards on either end, lacked their sons' joy. I knew little about this family other than the fact the mother left a couple months before, leaving her husband bereaved and broken. Upon seeing them together on Christmas Eve, I was hopeful they had reunited.
Unfortunately, it didn't take long for me to realize that this was highly unlikely. With a glance toward the wife, it became clear she resented being there. Unconcerned with whether or not she had reason for such animosity, I noted his grief-lined face. This was a broken man -- thoroughly and completely.
How my heart ached for them, for the hurt that had led them to this moment and for the greater pain that was certain to follow. With my son still in my arms, I ceased singing and began to silently pray: A miracle, God! I ask for a miracle! This is what Christmas is all about, right? And if ever a family was in need of a miracle, it is this one. Do something, please? Soften hearts and mend wounds. And somehow, through the wonder of Christmas, bring this family back together again.
Christmas passed, and I never heard what became of the family that had so touched my heart. The days and weeks that followed filled easily with the responsibilities of caring for my husband and young son. It was a year of firsts -- first holidays, first words, first steps, first birthdays. Thoughts of the broken family slipped readily from my mind.
Until my own family began to crumble. Ironically, I became a single woman six days before the next Christmas. Like stepping into the vision I had glimpsed the previous Christmas Eve, I was the broken and bereaved spouse watching the door close behind my husband for the final time. With a chill in the air of an otherwise mild day, he left without a second glance. I clung desperately to my oblivious one-and-a-half-year-old, as though he might be the next to leave. How could this happen?
As those six days passed painfully slowly, my despair deepened. Everywhere I looked, hand-holding couples and romantic symbols of the holiday season seemed to mock me and my loss. And then Christmas Eve came. I couldn't imagine how painful it would be. Only a year before, I had stood outside the glass looking in, thinking I understood but not having a clue. This year, it was my reality -- and the searing pain nearly destroyed me. More than anything, I felt betrayed by my own foolish notions of true love. My childhood imaginings of marriage and family were painted in such vivid detail. Now I believed that those Cinderella-esque dreams had led me astray. "Happily-ever-after" didn't exist, at least not for me. I don't know if I was angrier at a world that perpetuated such a false hope or at myself for swallowing the lie so completely.
Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months. The responsibilities of caring for a child and maintaining a household eventually trumped my desire to drown in self-pity. I got a full-time job, enlisted the aid of daycare, and eventually developed the routine of a single mom. In time, my internal storm began to subside. I learned to smile again, buoyed by the laughter of my precious little boy and the love of friends and family. All was not lost. The sun still shone bright and my roses still bloomed. Life was good. But love again? That was out of the question.
Until... well, until I ran into him again -- the father from Christmas two years earlier who was now a full-time single dad of two sons. We ran into each other at the same church where each of us had faced our greatest loss. Upon hearing of my divorce, he extended a truly empathetic hand of friendship. He understood the loss of self-worth, the grieving for lost dreams, and the sheer exhaustion of raising a son alone. With few words, but a healing presence, he infused me with courage and the hope that there was life -- and possibly love -- beyond divorce.
Within months, we were hovering precariously between the safety of friendship and the risk of relationship. Both afraid of opening our newly mended hearts, we did the cautious dance of intimacy and distance. It was during one of these uncertain moments, when our three sons were playing baseball at the park that the subject of Christmas Eve came up.
"I prayed for you, you know. On Christmas Eve. When your family was sitting in church together."
He looked surprised at my revelation. I continued, "I prayed for a miracle, for love to win. I saw how sad you were, and it nearly broke my heart. So I prayed."
He smiled, thankful I had been present with him in his darkest time, though he'd never known it. I didn't expect him to say anything, but he had a revelation of his own.
"The next year, you were the one alone on Christmas Eve." He paused. "I watched you, saw your pain, and remembered what it had been like for me the year before. And... well, I was the one who prayed for you that Christmas."
We sat speechless, humbled by the fact that years before we had unsuspectingly participated in something far beyond us. The threads of life's heartache, dark as they were, had been intentionally woven into the fabric of today, uniting the pain of the old with the exquisite wonder of the new. And in the unveiling of this truth, stubborn beams of light began to penetrate the thick guards of my heart. Love, real love, was not dead. Beauty would rise from the ashes of divorce, painting my life with rich color and filling it with fragrance once again.
I prayed for a miracle that first Christmas Eve -- a miracle for a family I knew little about. Today, as the wife of the man who resurrected my dreams of true love, I now realize the miracle was granted. And not just for them, but also for me.