And Mary "treasured up all things and pondered them in her heart...."
That continues to be what I do as I reflect on what took place in my life, now many years ago in a "far and distant land." Relax, grab a hot cup of tea, and reminisce with me while I share my story of when I was dreaming of a "pink Christmas."
That Christmas would be different from previous ones, because at that time, I was "great with child."
"Oh...my," I remember saying, with a deep gulp. "Tomorrow is Christmas Day. Already!"
The smell of freshly baked cookies filled the air, while flour decorated the floor. Ribbons and wrapping paper littered the rooms of our tiny rented pink house. My "helpers," two toddlers, 18 months and almost 3 years old, had left a trail of their activity as they tried to help mommy bake and wrap. The freshly cut Oregon Christmas tree stood in the corner of the living room, a bit crooked with straggly limbs, and a shape that was more like the tree that Charlie Brown owned. It was uniquely decorated, as ornaments were hung at the bottom of the tree, only as high as little hands could reach.
Oh, would I ever get everything done today for Christmas tomorrow? I felt utterly weary, absolutely exhausted.
It was finally naptime, so I gently tucked two little boys in for their afternoon naps and shuffled to the cluttered pink kitchen for a steaming cup of tea. I carefully sank into my favorite chair, physically drained from being nine months pregnant and chasing two busy toddlers. I found myself staring at the misty cold Oregon rain gently tapping against the windowpane. My mind began to wander and to reflect on Christmases past. This one was to be very different.
As I relaxed and was enjoying this quiet moment of peace, I found myself appreciating God's faithfulness to our family, particularly during the past several months.
Four months before, my husband had been "issued a contract" from a university. So we "went up from the town of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania to Portland, Oregon." We left family and friends, and familiar surroundings and journeyed to this "far and distant land." With two rambunctious "angels" and my being five months pregnant, the trip was very long and indescribably uncomfortable.
Another baby? How could I cope? This new baby was defiantly a "surprise." Initially, I had difficulty accepting the fact that soon there would be three little ones under the age of three in our home. I was fearful that I wouldn't be able to handle another child, even with the help of my dear husband. But the Lord seemed to whisper in my ear, "Fear not, I am with you and I will help you."
After giving birth to two boys, the secret desire of my heart was for a girl. But, again, I could rest in His perfect will.
Oh, that tea tasted delightful! I breathed a deep sigh, and at that moment, I felt the familiar quick, strong, demanding kicks of my unborn child. "Yes, sweetheart," I said aloud. "Just a few more days and I can actually hold you in my arms. Just stay patient. I can't wait to meet you!"
I stretched out and slid down more comfortably in the stuffed chair. Gazing at the Pepto-Bismol pink walls surrounding me, I recalled the day when I first saw this place, our new home.
A well-meaning friend had arranged for us to rent this house. It would be our first real house after six years of living in apartments. After our exhausting cross-country trip, we were anxious to see our new home and to get settled in. AHHHHHH... And, at last, we found our house. We looked at the address and looked at the house, then looked at the address, then looked at the house. What? Was this it? A dirty, old rickety, pink house! A bad dream...surely a very bad dream.
In utter disbelief we unloaded our little family, walked up the cracked sidewalk, put the key into the lock, and flung open the door, only to be greeted by one of the most depressing sights I'd ever seen. Dusty, torn plastic curtains hung in the cracked and filthy windows. Musty smelling cracked dirty linoleum covered the floors. There was a clear view of the sky that could be seen by looking up through the hole of the chimney. And to top it all off, the walls in the entire inside of the house were covered with that same horrid pink paint.
"Is this a joke?" I angrily cried out to God. "I had trusted you with our little family and tried to be obedient, following my husband to this place sight unseen, and this is what you've given me?" I cried some more.
God listened patiently and compassionately. He knew what He was doing. After days of struggle, I realized I was only making the situation worse. I had to come to the place of deciding that either I trusted God or I didn't. There was no middle ground. It had been easy trusting God when the circumstances were comfortable and I thought things were going my way, but now I was angry, bitter, depressed, and fighting God.
I realized that I needed to confess my anger and disappointment and to begin thanking Him for every good thing I could think of about this related to this disappointing situation. Engaging in that task was not easy, believe me! But as soon as I began thanking God, an amazing thing began to happen. Genuine peace flooded my soul. I discovered a simple formula that became part of my life forever thereafter: PRAYER + PRAISE = PEACE.
God seemed to be saying, "Trust me in this pink place."
We did a few inexpensive things to make it more like home (a lot of scrubbing to be sure!). I realized that I had all I needed. My family was safe, we had an income, and we were together. This had become home. God taught me more in that little house than He could have if He had given us a castle.
My daydreaming and tea sipping abruptly ended as I heard my little boy in the other room crying. Naptime was over. I slowly lifted my swollen form from the comfortable chair and went into his room, holding him tightly and comforting him.
As the day melted away I was feeling very unusual. I began having every reason to believe that this baby, this gift from God, would arrive soon. So, on that Christmas Eve, we broke family tradition and let our two excited boys rip open the boxed treasures under the tree. We read the Christmas story to the inattentive duo, prayed with them, and then tucked them into bed.
In the wee hours of Christmas morning – one o'clock to be exact -- I went into labor. I knew that my "days were accomplished" and I would soon be delivering. We called a friend to stay with the boys. Then in the chilled damp Oregon night air, we drove one mile to the small country hospital.
We went to the admitting door astonished to find that it was locked. My panicked husband knocked on the door, and a moment later a nurse came to our aid. It was obvious that I was in labor, but I was told something akin to "no room in the inn." The solo delivery room was already occupied. So, I was put right into a regular hospital room.
Many thoughts raced through my mind. I was ecstatic to think about the fact that "my baby is going to be born on Christmas Day!" This baby, this one who's coming had initially been so difficult to accept, would be sharing a birthday with JESUS!
"And it came to pass," at 2:30 Christmas morning, there in the quiet, dimly lit hospital room with my husband by my side, we experienced the birth of our third child. Not only was this new baby born on Christmas day, perfect in every way, but also the Lord had graciously given me the secret desire of my heart -- a girl!
She was wrapped in pink blankets and was gently handed to me. I held this baby girl close to my heart and tears of joy and thankfulness ran down my face, overwhelmed by God's faithfulness and love.
This gift to us that Christmas Day would always be a beautiful living reminder of God's devotion to me, a doubting struggling young mother. This child would always remind me of what Christmas is all about, God sending the world His perfect gift of His son, Jesus, to others like me living in a world needing a Savior.
That baby girl has now grown up and has been given her own gifts, a baby boy and her own bundle of pink, a baby girl.
And I continue to "ponder these amazing things in my heart."
Marylou Habecker is a wife, mother of three, and grandmother of six, living in Upland, Indiana, where her husband Gene serves as President of Taylor University, the college where they met, fell in love, and both graduated from. Marylou does freelance writing for WBCL radio's "Fresh Perspectives" devotional show, as well as for American Bible Society.