This time of year has always been one of my favorites. As a child, (and an adult) I thoroughly enjoyed decorating the house, making Christmas cookies, and singing Christmas carols.Taking part in Christmas productions at school was another highlight that filled my heart with Christmas cheer.
One year while I was in elementary school, I was asked to portray the part of Mary in the school play. This could've been because I was one of the few girls my age who still had long, dark hair, (Pixie cuts were all the rage that year) but I also suspect the fact that my aunt happened to be my teacher had a lot more to do with it. ;) Regardless, I was thrilled and during rehearsals, I strived to live up to the expectations of this starring role.
The day of the much anticipated performance finally came. The night before I had been so excited, I could hardly sleep. When I woke up, I experienced waves of nausea, and was terribly unamused. This couldn't be happening. I was supposed to be Mary that day!
I quickly dressed and hurried into the kitchen. Then I sat down on a chair to keep from collapsing onto the floor. By then I knew I had caught a vicious stomach bug that had been going around the school for a couple of weeks. The thought made me sicker than I already was. People were depending on me--I had a starring role. I had looked forward to this event for weeks and I wasn't about to let my uncooperative body ruin things for me.
Somehow I made it through breakfast--with the help of our family dog. I slipped her most of what was on my plate that morning. My mother had been so busy getting everyone else ready for the day that she hadn't noticed I was tilting sideways. It wasn't until she was helping me fix my hair for the play that she caught on that I was a bit pale. She asked if I was feeling all right and I assured her I was fine. She then counseled me to quit being so nervous, assuming that was the cause of the slightly green tint, and she continued helping me get ready.
I'm amazed I survived the bus ride to school. Plagued by a tendency to develop motion sickness under normal circumstances, the added nausea from the stomach bug was almost more than I could bear, but I was so determined to be the best Mary this school had ever seen, I gritted my teeth and forced my body to behave.
I arrived at the school, and hurried into the girls restroom where I splashed cold water on my face to ease the queasiness. Then I went into the classroom and laid my head down on my desk to make the world quit spinning.
Now I realize I shouldn't have attempted taking part in the school production that day--but in my seven-year-old mind, this was the most important thing that had ever come into my life. I had been picked to portray Mary, the mother of Jesus. It seemed like my entire world was centered on successfully seeing this part through to the finish.
The rest of that morning is pretty much a blur. I do remember my aunt asking if I was feeling all right, and I gave her the same answer I had shared with my mother earlier: "I'm fine." Then I forced a weak smile, hoping it looked convincing.
During lunch hour, I nibbled on a piece of bread, then when the lunch lady wasn't looking, I gave away most of the food on my tray to my friends, and threw the rest into the garbarge. My friends assumed I was experiencing a form of stage fright, and were only too happy to consume the special treats that had been prepared for us that day.
It was finally time for the production. All of our parents (mostly our mothers since our dads were still at work) arrived to cheer us on. I quickly dressed in the traditional Mary costume, experiencing a mixture of excitement, extreme nausea, and a bit of nervousness. This was the biggest part I had ever been assigned in a school production and I was determined to give it everything I had.
My mother sneaked in to where I was getting ready to make sure I was doing okay. She again commented on how pale I was and asked me a final time if I was all right. Assuring her that I was, I picked up the doll that would be playing the part of Jesus that day, and we hurried back into the room where everyone else had gathered.
The play progressed nicely that afternoon. All went well until it was time for me lay the baby Jesus into the small manger. Then disaster struck. The nausea I had been doing my best to ignore would no longer be denied. When I realized my body was taking the driver's seat, I dropped the doll into the manger, and ran off the small stage, but didn't quite make it out of the room in time.
Mortified by the mess I had made . . . of everything . . . I ran into the girls' restroom to hide. My mother followed, and graciously helped me clean up. My aunt took care of the new carpet I had all but ruined in the other room. I heard later from some of my friends that she had not been amused by my performance, and was upset by the condition of the new carpet. (It was a brand new school we had moved into that fall. I have the honor of being the first kid who stained some of the new carpet.)
Later when I was lying in the comfort of my bed at home, I pulled a pillow over my face and cried, convinced I had ruined Christmas for everyone. I had shamed my family in a public fashion, desecrated the role of Mary, and ticked off my aunt. My life was in ruins . . . or so I thought.
My family rallied around me, my parents and younger siblings (I was the oldest in our clan) offering sympathy and love despite my less than stellar performance. My brother even commented on how cool it was that I had barfed in front of everyone. Boys always see things differently, even at that young age.
By Christmas Eve, I was feeling better, and my mother asked me to play the part of Mary in our own family production of the traditional Christmas Story. Donning a different costume (the other one was understandably thrown away) I gravely did my best to portray the mother of our Savior. With my brother playing the part of Joseph, our younger sister representing the shepherds, and our baby sister taking the part of the infant Jesus, we solemnly acted out the miraculous birth of our Elder Brother. My dad read from the book of Luke, and our mother furnished the piano accompaniment for songs like "The First Noel," "Silent Night," and "O, Little Town of Bethlehem." The only one in the audience that night was our chihuahua, Teeny, but she seemed very impressed by our performance.
I've never forgotten the sacred feeling I experienced that night. Though my life was in shambles, I still felt the love of our Savior during that Christmas season. And by the time I returned to school to start the new year, everyone had moved past my unfortunate performance . . . with the exception of my aunt who still had a pained look whenever she glanced my direction . . . and a young boy my age who was as impressed by my eruption as my brother. He later asked me to be his girlfriend. ;)
I learned some great lessons from that experience--the importance of never pushing one's body past the point of no return, boys are weird, and the love of our Savior is very real. May we all reflect upon His great love for us, and share it with others this holiday season. MERRY CHRISTMAS!