The December stars twinkled above the small Minnesota town where I live. A light snow fell as I walked through the streets of our neighborhood. Though my breath froze in the chilly evening air, I was warmly bundled in a down jacket and boots lined with fleece.
“It’s so peaceful,” I said to myself. That evening my daughters, Christina and Rachael, both of them home for a long winter break, had decided to make Christmas cookies. ”Mom, we’ll help you get ready for the holidays,” they said.
“Sure. That would be great,” I replied. Now the counters in my kitchen, usually clutter-free, were covered with cookbooks, cookie sheets, and smudges of chocolate and flour. Loud rock music reverberated from a radio in our living room.
“You guys have fun. I’ll be back in awhile,” I told them. From the kitchen window, I saw them waving goodbye to me, happily.
As my boots crunched over the snow, I passed an outdoor skating rink where children played a game of pick-up hockey underneath tall street lights. I could hear the slap of hockey sticks and the distinct whoosh of a puck sliding down the ice. I smiled as I walked past homes donned with dazzling holiday lights and blinking angels.
Rounding a corner, my glance turned toward a small manger scene displayed in the yard of a two story home, just a few blocks from my house. There, a lone light bulb, attached to a nearby wheelchair ramp, cast a dim glow over the Christmas crèche.
“I wonder how Cara is doing,” I thought to myself.
A few years earlier, Cara, the occupant of the home, had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. She was a single mother of two children and recently her disease had progressed. Once a healthy young woman, active in her children’s sports and school life, Cara was now in a wheelchair, unable to walk, speak, or feed herself. Her aging parents had moved in with Cara and bore the dual responsibility of raising their grandchildren while at the same time, caring for their disabled daughter.
While I had never met Cara personally, my daughters had babysat her children during previous summers. I had come to know Cara only through the stories that Christina and Rachael had shared.
“It must be so hard,” I said to myself.
The winter winds whirled around me. I thought about the sacrifices that were quietly offered, each day, within the walls of this snow-covered home. Here, an aging mother spoon-fed her daughter, three meals a day while an elderly father regularly shoveled a wheelchair ramp. Here, a young mother silently surrendered the minutes, hours, and years of her life to a disease she had no absolutely no control over.
I fixed my glance on the manger scene. I began recalling some of the hardships that the holy family endured. Mary courageously faced the realities of an unplanned pregnancy. Joseph raised and loved a child that was not his own. Jesus, the son entrusted to them by God, suffered and died on a cross.
Yet, on that Holy night, so many years ago, one lone star shone for the Holy Family. This heavenly light was a twinkling affirmation that God was present and that all was well, even in the midst of their uncertainty.
So too, Cara’s family was giving testimony to the message imparted in the Christmas star. Their humbly lit crèche was a reminder that God’ presence doesn’t always dazzle. Sometimes his presence is more like a bulb faintly glowing on a wheelchair ramp, a light in the darkness that guides us to hope.
Soon, the words of an age-old carol came to mind:
“Oh little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie,
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep,
The silent stars go by,
Yet in thy dark streets shineth,
The everlasting light,
The hopes and fears of all the years,
Are met in thee tonight.”
As I made my way home, winding my way through the streets I knew so well, I found myself praying for Cara’s family. “Show me what I can do for her,” I prayed.
When I opened the front door of my home, much to my surprise, I heard the sound of my favorite Christmas CD playing from the radio in the living room. The kitchen counters were spotless and the dishes were washed. Several plates of freshly baked cookies had been wrapped in cellophane and trimmed with red ribbon.
“Mom! We made cookies for all the neighbors,” my daughters said in unison. They gestured their hands over the baked treasures like they were presenting Academy Awards.
“I’m so impressed,” I said.
On one of the plates of cookies, the girls had attached a handwritten card that read: “Cara’s family.”
My prayer had been answered.