3: O Holy Night

3: O Holy Night

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!

O Holy Night

I brought children into this dark world because it needed the light that only a child can bring.

~Liz Armbruster, www.robertbrault.com

After eight years of marriage, I thought my husband knew me better. I was wrong. It all began when our pastor asked everyone in our small congregation to participate in the annual Christmas program. Not being one who enjoys the spotlight, I cringed. But my husband had other ideas.

“You want me to stand up in front of the entire church and sing?” I dropped my knife, splattering red frosting across the table. I was sitting at the kitchen table decorating Christmas cookies with our three-year-old daughter, Emily.

“Not by yourself.” He snatched a heavily-sprinkled cookie from our daughter’s pile. “I’ll sing with you.”

“Oh that’s comforting,” I said, folding my arms. “You know I don’t like all those people looking at me.”

Curt shrugged and took a bite of the cookie. “It’s a small church.”

“Not small enough,” I mumbled.

I don’t know how he did it, but a couple of days later, Curt managed to persuade me. We dug through our collection of Christmas music, looking for the perfect song. Finally we agreed on “O Holy Night.” I ran to the mall, bought the karaoke version and popped it into the cassette player. As the intro began, I felt a twinge of anxiety. I just need to get more familiar with the song, I thought.

So I practiced every time I got in the car. When I ran to the store, I sang along with the lyrics. As I drove to the mall, I flipped the tape over and sang with the accompaniment. When we went out for dinner, Curt and I practiced harmonizing the chorus. Emily always sat buckled in her car seat, happily humming along.

But I was not happy. With each passing day, panic grew inside me. I imagined myself standing up front on program night. Everyone’s eyes would be fixed on me. What if I forgot the words? What if I tripped over a poinsettia on the way up the steps? How had I ever let Curt talk me into this?

All too soon, the night I’d been dreading arrived. Curt and I sat in the back of the church waiting our turn. On the platform, a pleasantly plump woman recited her version of ’Twas the Night Before Christmas. I took a deep breath, trying to calm the butterflies dive-bombing my stomach.

Suddenly, something occurred to me. What would I do with Emily when we went up front? I couldn’t leave her sitting by herself. I scanned the church, looking for someone she could sit with. Maybe I could bring her with us. But Emily was pretty shy — what if she got scared in front of all those people? As I wrestled with my decision, the pastor interrupted my thoughts.

“Curt, Sheri, come on up....”

I scooped Emily onto my hip. Then we walked to the front and stood together on the platform.

The congregation sat still, watching and waiting. I nervously switched Emily to my other hip, holding her between Curt and me. I felt the warmth rising in my cheeks. I glanced over at Curt and gave him a subtle, you’ll-pay-for-this smile.

Finally the music began. I cleared my throat. “O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining...”

As Curt and I sang, I was surprised to hear Emily whispering the words along with us. How sweet, I thought. She’d heard the song so many times, she’d also learned the words.

After a couple of verses, Emily grew more confident and sang a bit louder. A few rows back, two gray-haired ladies nodded and smiled at our charming trio. They probably think we planned this, I thought, gazing proudly at Emily. My nervous butterflies began to disappear. Things were going so well — until we reached the chorus.

As the chorus opened, Emily began to sing with such enthusiasm, it startled me. She opened her mouth wide and belted out each sour note with tremendous conviction. I gave her a firm squeeze, but she didn’t take the hint. Curt and I stared at one another in shock. Across the pews, men snickered. Women covered their mouths to hide their giggles. Curt and I sang louder, hoping to block her out. But her passionate performance overpowered us both.

Finally we could no longer maintain our composure. Emily’s innocent joy was contagious. Curt and I stopped singing and joined the rest of the church in sweet, unreserved laughter. Emily grinned and continued her solo.

Once the applause died down we returned to our seats. Someone else took a turn on the platform, but I couldn’t concentrate. I looked down at Emily, her eyes still sparkling as she picked up a crayon and began flipping through a coloring book. Suddenly I realized my three-year-old had taught me a lesson.

During my week of nervous jitters and trivial irritations, I had only been focusing on myself. Christmas wasn’t about me. Christmas was about giving to others. I reached down and patted Emily’s little knee. She hadn’t worried about what others might think. She openly shared the joy in her heart — and didn’t hold back.

Mommy missed the point, I thought. But Emily reminded me that true joy comes when bringing happiness to others.

~Sheri Zeck

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