Tomorrow is our oldest son, Joshua’s, birthday. My husband and I are looking forward to celebrating it with him and his wife, Vanessa. Joshua was born in Bogota, Colombia where we lived for two years while my husband performed in Colombia’s National Symphony Orchestra.
Those were interesting and memorable years—learning a new language and adjusting to a different culture far from home. When our friends and family learned that I was expecting our first baby, they invariably said, “But you’re coming home to the States to give birth, aren’t you?” I just laughed and assured them that babies were born in Bogota every day. It was no big deal.
Until I went into labor.
Those of you who have children can probably imagine that giving birth is not something you want to attempt to do in a foreign language. Especially when it’s your first child. But I was young and dumb—and by the time the labor pains started it was much too late to book a flight to America. I did my best to stumble through the ordeal in Spanish, and when they finally laid little Joshua in my arms, my first words to him came out in Spanish. My baffled husband said, “What are you doing? He speaks English!”
Twenty days later, it was Christmas Eve. We were far from home, far from family, with a tiny son who barely weighed 6 pounds, celebrating the holiday alone. Yet I will always remember it as one of the most beautiful, memorable ones of my life.
Christmas in Bogota is celebrated like our Fourth of July—with fireworks. You can forget about “Silent Night” with explosions of all kinds going off in the streets. At night the sky is lit up with globos, which are little parachutes fastened to cans of burning fuel. They look lovely as they rise up in the sky, but beware—when the fuels runs out, the cans drop to the ground, falling on unsuspecting pedestrians’ heads!
But what made that Christmas so memorable was that I was holding and nurturing a tiny, helpless baby—a beautiful reminder of how tiny and helpless Jesus was when He came to earth. Imagine! The Creator of the infinite universe was once as helpless and vulnerable as my son. From the moment I first held Joshua in my arms, I felt such a fierce love for him, stronger than any emotion I had ever known—and in that moment I finally caught a glimpse of God’s unfathomable love for me. For me! I knew that I would protect my son with every last ounce of strength I possessed. Yet God’s love for me was so great that He allowed His Son to suffer and die. For me.
That Christmas in Bogota was different from any other Christmas, before or since. We didn’t have a Christmas tree. There were no decorations, no lights, no frantic shopping trips. No carols, no cookies, no presents to wrap, no family gatherings. Yet in that simplicity, I found the true meaning of Christmas—a helpless child, a Father’s love.
I was reminded of Mary and all that she must have endured that first Christmas—a long journey from home, finding a place to stay, giving birth for the first time. Then all of the excitement as the shepherds paid a visit and spread the news about the Messiah’s birth. Yet in the midst of it, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” In the simplicity of my first Christmas with a newborn, I had the luxury of doing the same.
Only 20 days remain until Christmas Eve. I still haven’t put up my Christmas tree or decorated my house. There are no cookies baking in my oven, no hot chocolate simmering on the stove. I haven’t bought a single present or even made a list. But this year—every year—I pray that I can let go of all the trappings, all the stress and hassle for just a few moments, and remember how it felt to hold a helpless child in my arms, a child I loved with all that I am. Like Mary, I want to treasure up these things and ponder them in my heart. And then I can celebrate Christmas joyfully, thanking a Heavenly Father who loved me enough to give His Son for me.