Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Changing Roles

Every year on Christmas Eve since I can remember, our family would act out the nativity. I always wanted to play Mary, because, well, she was the glory role, and I was a kid out for glory. The rules of the family nativity were simple: After your first Christmas, or once you got too wiggly to lay in the manger, your stint as Baby Jesus was unequivocally over and you were replaced by a Cabbage Patch Doll and permanently relegated to a co-star position. Of course, the next best thing to being the baby (who was always too young to appreciate their good fortune anyway), was being the baby's mother. Always "onstage" (read: in the middle of the living room), and providing there was no "live" Baby Jesus attempting an escape, the focus of attention. So that's who I always wanted to be, and should any of my cousins decide to get grabby and want my role, I would pull out my trump card--it's my birthday. Yes, I realize I sound like a jerk, but I was very small and had to find a positive to having an otherwise fairly lousy day for a birthday. So, other than a few memorable exceptions due to having fairness thrust upon me, or sickness (like the memorable year I was dubbed "the puking angel"), I always played Mary. The one role I hated being stuck with was of course the angel visiting the shepherds. I hated this job because not only did you have like 2 minutes on stage, but it was the only role with actual lines--so you had all the work and none of the glory. To a kid, that's the very definition of lose-lose.
I can pinpoint the exact moment when my perspective on the Christmas Nativity changed forever. It was when I became a mother. I remember very clearly, being dragged out of my hospital bed shortly after Sam's birth, followed immediately by barfing and fainting. After they pulled out the smelling salts (very effective and disgusting by they way), the nurses reassured me that it was a normal reaction to the epidural wearing off. Call it what you will--but I will never fully work out in my head if it actually was a side effect of the epidural, or the abject fear and crippling responsibility of parenthood overcoming me. It was the first time in the entire process that I wasn't either too preoccupied with giving birth or holding my adorable baby in my arms that I realized the magnitude of the job ahead of me. I was humbled, excited, and terrified at the same time. Of all the swirling emotions in my head that day, happiness and inadequacy fought for supremacy.
That first Christmas after Sam was born was the first that I didn't see Mary as the "glory role." I finally understood the fear associated with parenting even a normal child (granting of course, the theory of every parent that their child is amazing). My pregnancy was not announced by angels, but the advent of car sickness. I was not told that my child would be the Savior of the World, or that I was chosen of God, yet I tremble with the responsibility to raise her to be the best person she can be. Although I love and adore my family and friends, my baby was not visited by wise men following a celestial sign and bestowing the gifts of kings. Even with my limited experience in the matter and understanding of the smallest fraction of what Mary must have "pondered them in her heart" that day, I wouldn't trade places with her for anything in the world. Of all those involved in the Christmas story that day in fact, Mary (and Joseph as her partner in parenting) are probably the only ones whose abundant joy was tempered by fear of the unknown, knowing as they did in small part, the magnitude of this child's role in the world.
So after years of dying to play the virgin mother of the Savior, I have now changed my ideal role. Now, given the opportunity, I would choose to play the angel. I rejoice in the idea of the joy in the heavens so great that the angels can not be restrained and sing out in praise of God. For all those years I thought the angel was all the work, I know realize that it was Mary who was facing the real work--seeing her own child in the throes of sorrow and pain, betrayed and humiliated, doing the most important work ever to occur on this earth. And while I feel even more strongly for how incredible her nature must have truly been to have been given this responsibility, I don't even want to pretend to come close to it. Yes, this year, I will gladly relinquish the role of Mary to my little sister, who will wear her pillowcase head wear happily until she too understands the role of "mother" more clearly. This year, I will give glory to God in the Highest as one of the scores of angels witnessing His birth. And I couldn't be happier for my two minutes to proclaim my testimony.
Merry Christmas!

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