Currently Listening To: Celebrate the Day by Relient K
Favorite lyric from the song: "When you first opened your eyes did you realize you would be my Savior?"
I told my family I wanted all of us to go see "A Christmas Carol" together as my Christmas present. They cheated and got me more stuff, but we did go see the play last week and it was lovely. My city has a cool theater. None of the actors get paid; it's all volunteer work. And yet, the calibur of acting is quite good. My favorite play I've seen there was last Christmas when they performed "It's a Wonderful Life." (Next spring they're doing "Our Town" my most favorite play). This year, they brought the Scrooge for sure.
As we were leaving the theater I said, "I guess that little kid who played the Ghost of Christmas Past did okay. I mean, for like a beginner and all." I was joking, of course, He was cute (err..she?).
I was making reference to my run as The Ghost of Christmas Past when I was in high school. I still bring it up often around the holidays only because it was not memorable at all. So I like to keep reminding my family I did it. And I like to pretend like it was a much bigger deal than it ever was.
You might think the ghost of Christmas past is a bit part, but I shall persuade you otherwise. That feisty little ghost is the glue for Dickens' masterpiece (or at least that’s what I told myself). The first Christmas ghost has an important lesson for literature’s original Grinch: good memories and bad memories are both brush strokes in the big picture. We can’t change the past, but we can determine how we will react to it. That's a heavy job, mostly conveyed on stage through lots of pointing. Not only did I point with all kinds of sass and flair, but I warned Scrooge about the wacky ghost of Christmas Present (played by my bff Sarah ... who wore a giant box with a bow on top. Get it? Christmas present. As you can tell, it was a top notch produciton).
Our entire ensemble was a motley crew to say the least – Jacob Marley fell over the railing during practice because he did too good a job chaining himself up. We had no background, no scenery, and most notably – no Ebenezer Scrooge. We had Eleanor instead. Costuming wasn’t exactly noteworthy either. I looked more like a marshmallow than a ghost in my big shiny white choir robe and duck-taped flower headpiece. I remember standing in the drama room lamenting about how dumb I felt when my friend, Cade, gently reminded me it could be much worse.
He was cast as “Christmas turkey” in another play.
"My line," he said, "is gobble gobble."
Then he shoved the hat - complete with the stuffed glove glued to the top - on top of his head. I knew he had a point. Plus, Sarah was wearing a giant box.
Midway through my Tony worthy performance, I heard the Velcro snap on the back of my robe come undone. If you were watching, you would have seen an unmistakable look of horror spread across my face (I fell out of character ... it was tragic). The robe didn’t fall off or anything (and I had clothes on under it – so it wouldn't’t have been horrible if it had), but losing my costume would have still been pretty embarrassing. Regardless, Broadway never came calling.
But A Christmas Carol wasn't my first dance with classic holiday plays. Like many a fine actress (at least that's what I tell myself...), I got my start acting in church plays when I was a kid. However, I never got the roles I wanted most. There was a Nativity food chain in my little church and one role in particular made all the rest seem like bit parts. Every year, I crossed my fingers and hoped to be Mary.
Mary, who holds a cute plastic doll.
Mary, who got to walk out with a cute boy.
When Mary was cast and it wasn’t me (ever), I hoped for the second best part – I hoped for an angel. The angels wore puffy sparkly halos and wings made of wire, linen and glitter. They always had pretty hair and wore makeup and sang. Angels had great lines and great songs and people smiled like crazy when the angels came out. Every year, those were the roles I wanted. And every year I was cast almost as low on the Nativity food chain as one can be cast. I wasn’t a turkey, but in my mind I didn’t do much better.
I was always a shepherd.
I am pretty sure I was cast as a shepherd for a few reasons in particular.
First, my mom made my costume. The woman who made me a Rainbow Brite Halloween costume Rainbow Brite herself would have been jealous of wasn’t about to send me out in a bathrobe. And once she’d made my costume, she made a costume for another shephard if she had time. Within a few years, all the shephards were dressed in custom swag. My church had a zillion angel costumes but shepherd costumes are harder to come by. Lowly though we were, we looked wooly-chic.
Second, shepherds had lines. I was pretty good at memorizing lines (mine and everybody else’s).
Third, I used a little silver walker, crutches, or a wheelchair to get around until around the age of eleven or twelve. Having a mobility device of any kind pretty much means shepherding is the call for you. Shepherds have staffs and so somehow it all fits I suppose. It would have been hard to carry a doll around as Mary using a walker. Much less ride a donkey. (Not that Mary rode a donkey in our play. But that would have been intresting ...)
I remember waiting off stage one year (as in – the front pew) wearing my cute shepherd costume, watching girls star in those coveted parts I’d dreamed of having.
Gorgeous Mary: holding a doll wrapped in a blanket, sitting beside studly Joseph, who swayed back and forth and started playing with his head wrap.
The angels: All of them singing in perfect high-pitched unison, looking gorgeous and glittery winged.
And then there was me: Me and my many doubts about whether or not girls could even be shepherds. I kicked my legs back and forth while I mouthed the lines the angels said. Then I looked to my right and saw the guy who had to dress up as my sheep (I knew even then it could have been worse). When it was our turn to go on, I stood up and clunked up to the blue carpet fields with the silver walker I was using. Someone hoisted the giant star above the stage. Pin-curled angels interrupted my walk.
Good tidings of great joy!
And off we went, my sheep and I, to stage left to see the baby.
Following a silver foil star to the meeting that would transform both our lives.
I tend not to get too serious on the blog, but a season like this merits a little bit of seriousness. It helps balance all the wacky :) The more I think about the Christmas story as I get older, the more I realize no part of the Nativity was incidental. From the gifts brought by the three traveling wisemen to the place of Jesus' birth – the historical, prophetical and metaphorical threads that weave together the fabric of Christmas blow my mind. I think my favorite threads are the dingy ones running through all that gold and silver, the ones that look crudely out of place: an unsightly stable, animals, and random shepherds. The wisemen had some clout. The wisemen brought fancy gifts. The shepherds? Eh. They were ordinary people, with ordinary jobs, who probably smelled like sheep poop.
Which is why, In retrospect, I think the shepherd thing was a perfect fit (minus the stank).
This year, I'm ready for some star-chasing. I'm a little bit desperate for some peace on earth. I feel like a bundle of paradoxes; like hope and fear wrestel constantly in my restless heart. I'm ambitious but I'm afraid to try. I'm sensitive but snarky. I'm romantic but totally pessimistic. I worry. I doubt. I try and fail.
Which is why I’m thankful Jesus didn’t just come for the pedigreed and brilliant who never doubt, or worry, or fail. I’m so glad he came for people who feel forgotten, lonely and left out. I’m glad he wasn’t afraid to be close to people battling addiction and disease and grief so heavy they felt smashed by the weight of it all. I’m glad he made a special stop for shepherds and wallflowers to teach them there is always room to love more, to serve more, to be more than you think you're capable of being. You matter way more than you think you do. There's a part for everybody in the Christmas story. I love that. Even if chasing after him requires using a little silver walker, I can't think of a cooler adventure. I can't think of a more perfect happily ever after.
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government will be on his shoulders: and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6)
And the weary world rejoices.
Merry Christmas friends :) Your participation in this blog means so much to me. Thanks for reading all the randoms spewing forth from my brain this year. Thanks for making me laugh and making me think. Wherever you are, however you celebrate this season, I hope your holiday is everything beautiful and bright. I'm so thankful for you people. I hope you know how loved you are.
(p.s. - Biscuit says Merry Christmas too!)