I did it!
I got my first piece published in a newspaper!
And I almost didn’t even notice, because they got my name wrong on the front cover….but hidden away in the paper, there it was!
My first published story.
Now, I’m well aware that my small city paper is no New York Times, but it still feels like a first step. Like a milestone for writing. Almost exactly one year ago, I started this blog, not knowing where it would take me, not even planning to share it at first with anyone (thanks to my sister-in-law, Andrea’s encouragement I did) and now I’ve taken one more baby step. And it feels good.
This is my story, which I submitted into the local newspaper, The Carillon, for the Christmas writing contest. It placed third out of who knows how many entires (hopefully more than three, LOL).
A Messy Christmas by: Heather Bergen
This year it will be perfect! I thought, as I put the last few packages under the tree. Finally, this year I was going to be able to make Christmas look just a little bit like the Christmas’ we read about in all those heart-warming Christmas tales! Decorations hung around the house, most of them new. Mountains of presents are stacked underneath the sparkling tree, each carefully wrapped in brightly coloured paper, ribbons shining on top of them. The usually empty box that sits in the corner of our kitchen (my husband tells me it’s a refrigerator and that people put food in it) was packed so full of meats, cheeses, egg nog and other mouth-watering dishes that there’s no possible way my small army of children will ever finish it all.
I think back to our humble beginnings, just ten years earlier. It was our first Christmas together. I was with child at the tender age of seventeen, a child myself really. Not yet showing, but feeling so small – so lost in a world where everyone around me seemed to have their futures figured out. I couldn’t afford the paper to wrap a gift, never mind something worth giving…but that year the story of a young, unwed teenager, in a stable, pregnant with the Messiah reached my heart in a brand new way. My eyes twinkled with the youth that I possessed. The hope within me was so bright, so fresh…sweetly naive.
Fast forward one year. My eyes still young, but red from crying, stared out of the hospital window at the large, dancing snowflakes falling to the ground like big pieces of confetti. A tear slips down my cheek. How can this possibly be my sons first Christmas? We should have been starting our own traditions, setting up our first tree, maybe with one of those cute “baby’s first Christmas” ornaments hanging in the center. I should have been buying him new stuffed bears, musical mobiles or maybe rattles with flashing lights.
But instead, there is nothing.
We’ve been here, at the Children’s Hospital for over two months. No one is certain how much longer until he is better. None of the doctors even know what exactly is wrong. We’re waiting. Waiting for answers. Waiting to continue our lives together. Turning to face my baby boy, I hold out my hand to grasp the chubby little fingers on his. His large, blue eyes look back at me and once again he pulls away, expecting that I’m just looking for a finger to poke. My heart sinks. He no longer lets me hold his hand. Every couple hours, more blood is drawn from those tiny fingers to make sure that his levels are okay. The tips of them are covered with little cuts. I close my eyes and wonder: Will he make it? Will we ever walk out of these hospital doors and be a family again?
Another year passes! We’re finally together!! All four of us. My husband and our two children. My little boy, now a healthy eighteen-month old and his brand new baby sister! Each of them receives just a small toy. After all we’ve been through, there’s no money for much else. But we’re together this year and it’s all that matters. I’m filled with warmth and gratitude.
Year after year goes through my mind. Most of the time, we were just holding on week by week. Decor? There was no money for that. Fancy meals? Nor those. Just a small gift or two each. Nothing more. But finally! This was the year! We were in a new house, Ryan had a new job. I could pay for all the things on our lists and more! Surely this would be the most special week, the best Christmas ever!
My five children are tucked into their beds when I hear it…there’s no mistaking THAT sound. Someone is throwing up.
Are you kidding me?!? Not tonight! Not THIS year! Not just one…but three little children are up all night. I spend Christmas Eve scrubbing rugs and doing laundry – load after load after LOAD! And then I get sick too. Throughout the whole week we all take our turns – a full six-day span before this family of seven is healthy again. The food in the fridge goes uneaten. the sweet oranges on the counter turn green. The new toys lie untouched in the corner, bringing little comfort to this sickly family. And once again bitter tears fall.
Why?!? It’s just not fair! Why did this have to ruin our first real Christmas?
Slowly a strange feeling comes over me and it dawned on me: What was the first real Christmas? It surely wasn’t neat and tidy, was it? And it dawned on me: This was the reason for Christmas. We are so weak and helpless, consumed by our own desires, and if our plans don’t work out, we cry and complain.
He saw our pain, our helplessness, our sicknesses and our junk and he came. Not just to be a baby, but to show us that there’s so much more. He came to heal our hearts, and give us new desires that will never disappoint. He came to give us joy through the hard times. He came to die and forgive. Christmas wasn’t meant to be a neat, pretty picture. It was a messy painful story, full of people with ruined plans. But it is also glorious. It is all our hope.
With tears full of joy running down my face and a heart so full it could explode, I whispered, “Thank you Jesus, you never let me settle for all that Christmas fluff. You made sure that I got to experience the real Christmas once again…messiness and all!”