Amazing what having children does for your prayer life. I've spent more time talking to God the past few days than I have in my entire life. Begging for mercy is more like it. Thankfully, He gives it. I won't go into the gorey details of what began and ended as a frustrating day, because what happened in between was pure Christmas magic.
I took my children to see Santa Claus for the first time ever. A friend referred us to a local shopping center. She said it was the best Santa experience ever, so we went to check it out. We quickly found Santa's house in the middle of the square. As we neared the spot, I began to feel it...a little Christmas cheer. I was beginning to think my head wasn't screwed on just right. Or perhaps it could be that my shoes were too tight. But the thought that scared me most of all was that my heart might have been two sizes too small.
The sun was shining and the wind was brisk as we entered the square. The brick sidewalk led us on a journey through scenes from the Nutcracker. Four small "theaters" surrounded by white picket fences held robotic dolls reenacting the battle between the Nutcracker and the Mouse King as well as the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Brother and Sister ran to Scene 1, which depicted Clara falling asleep and the Nutcracker coming to life. Their excitment was contagious as we hurried from scene to scene to see what happened next. And then we saw it...Santa's house was a small, snowy white cottage with a roof of bright red shingles. Green shutters framed a single window where cheery poinsettas smiled from their windowbox at the red and white gingham curtains. Brother quickly left the sidewalk and cut his own path under a low hanging Magnolia tree. There was no line. No canned Christmas music blaring from thin air. No cranky children who had been waiting forever for their turn. Only one boy perched on Santa's knee, telling him all his heart desired for Christmas. We watched him through the window as we waited on the red carpet leading to Santa's door. Brother was in awe. Sister began to feel nervous. She held in her hand a picture she had drawn for Santa and I asked her if she was ready to give it to him. "I don't want to go in," she replied quietly. "But how will Santa know what you want if you don't tell him?" "I don't want to talk to him." She was unmoving. I spied a little mailbox beside the door and told her she could put her picture in it for Santa and though we were going in, she didn't have to talk to him. That seemed like a great idea and she beamed as she slipped in the slot. The boy came bounding down the steps and the moment we were waiting for arrived. I had to bend down to enter the curved doorway into Santa's domain. But instantly I was transformed from a thirty something woman into a little girl again. Santa sat in his chair surrounded by Christmas finery and Mrs. Claus sat opposite him armed with her camera. They welcomed us warmly and Brother had no qualms about climbing into Santa's lap. Santa engaged him in small talk about school and asked him if he knew what s-n-o-w spelled. Brother answered "Santa!" With a hearty ho, ho, ho Santa gave him a hint and Brother figured it out. Sister would not even look his direction. However, Mrs. Claus was able to draw her out with all sorts of questions and before long, Sister took her spot on Santa's other knee. I sat next to Santa with Baby, who was wide-eyed with wonder, on my lap. We all leaned in and Mrs. Claus took our picture. She and Santa talked to us about movies and books and just visited with us. And of course, the kids told Santa what was most important on their Christmas lists (which was, to my relief, exactly what Santa had for them). Mrs. Claus handed us our picture and some snickerdoodle cookies as we said our Merry Christmases and walked back out into the cold. I spied a Starbucks nearby, so I got myself a Peppermint Mocha and we sat outside in the square enjoying our treats and enjoying the atmosphere. And I found myself in the midst of the holiday. It was almost as if I could reach out and pick a piece of it from the air and tuck it away in my pocket for later. Sister found a patch of purple pansies and picked two for me. Brother enjoyed being in the open and just ran. People were making their way from shop to shop, laughing and talking...and watching my crazy kids go nuts. But I didn't care. We walked around the shopping center, peering in windows and taking in the sights. And though we were surrounded by commercialism, it didn't phase us. It couldn't penetrate our little fortress of joy. I took their picture in a neat, British-like phone booth and next to a giant Nutcracker. We found some leaves piled on the sidewalk and they ran through them, scattering them as only a carefree soul can do. It was a memory I will hold dear to me forever.
Today God reminded why I love Christmas. I feel free to celebrate Christ's birth. And what happened then? Well, in Who-ville, they say, that the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day.