One December afternoon when I was in fourth grade, I sat in the living room in front of our bare Christmas tree, waiting for my sister and my mother to come home so we could decorate the tree together.
We had a set of paper angel ornaments, in pink, yellow and blue with fuzzy flocked dots on their dresses. They stood about two inches high with yellow curls stapled to their paper heads and gold paper wings stapled to their backs. Some held guitars, some autoharps like my teacher played, but my favorite were the singing angels who held white microphones with red tips in their outstretched pipe cleaner hands.
I carefully unpacked the angels, placed them on risers made of the empty ornament boxes, separating the altos from the first and second sopranos, and sang for them, a one-girl Mormon Tabernacle choir belting out every Christmas carol I knew. And I knew quite a few. I was an enthusiastic school choir member who’d memorized popular carols like Joy to the World, Silent Night, and Angels We Have Heard on High to the fourth verse, and even knew one verse of O Come All Ye Faithful in Latin.
Though I was a latch-key kid home alone I didn’t feel lonely singing with my angel choir. Given my enthusiastic refrains, you would’ve thought I was a true believer, a girl who walked the three blocks to church each Sunday, collecting attendance stars and memorizing Bible verses. You’d have been wrong.
I went to guitar mass sometimes with my Catholic friend across the street. Less often, I rode with another neighbor to a Protestant church somewhere across the freeway. What I knew about church was that I didn’t belong. About God, I knew even less.
I married when I was a twenty-one-year-old college student and that December my mother divided all her old ornaments between my sister and me. When we unwrapped the faded paper angels, she divided the mandolin and harp-playing angels in two equal piles—I hadn’t guessed the instruments quite right.
When we came to the microphone angels, both my mother and my sister laughed at my assertion and insisted they were holding candles, pointing to red tips that were obviously flames.
I hung my mute angels from my tree, singing carols without benefit of their mikes. The songs still touched something hidden deep within me, but they couldn’t mask my growing longing for something that felt missing from my life. Something a college degree, political activism, good deeds, and a good husband couldn’t satisfy—something I would later understand as the life of the soul.
To light a candle, you have to step close to the angel holding the flame. You have to be brave and intentional, and it can be as scary as walking into a church alone and uninvited looking for God. I wanted my angels to carry microphones, to fly around the neighborhood, sing out good news, and give me direction from a safe distance. I was curious about God but cautious. I didn’t want to get too close or personal.
But that’s what God does at Christmas, gets down in the straw and muck and has the nerve to insist on birthing something new and wrinkled and helpless smack in the middle of our lives.
When I was in my mid-twenties God came to me when I stood naked in the shower one morning. It was as though my angels set aside their microphone candles, grabbed some buckets, filled them with love, and poured them down upon me. You can’t get more personal than that.
The prophet Isaiah says we who’ve walked in darkness have seen a great light. I’d add that we who’ve walked in a parched landscape have been drenched with rain. May that light and that love, however and whenever and in whomever it is revealed, shine brightly, pour out abundantly, and nourish our souls.
I began blogging about "This or Something Better" in 2011 when my husband and I were discerning what came next in our lives, which turned out to be relocating to Puget Sound from our Native California. My older posts can be found here.