I was at the grocery store check-out … the self-check-out with my six year old Max when she passed by — a friend I hadn’t seen in several years. As we noticed each other, I left my post and my scanning job and hugged her neck. “How are you?” I asked. Immediately I knew the answer by the look in her eyes. It was a only few days before Thanksgiving. I was expecting, “busy, buying last minute baking supplies.” What she shared was unexpected. Her husband has cancer and his chemo was to start on Monday.

I now have totally abandoned my checking out duties and have turned it all over to Max, who, now that I think about it, was doing a fine job! Okay, normally I think I know what to say, but here’s what came out. “Could we get together and get a cup of coffee?” Why do I think Starbucks can cure anything? My dad was that way about hot tea. You could have pneumonia and he’d say, let me whip up some tea with a little honey and lemon–you’ll feel better. She laughed that you-silly-girl laugh, then she said, “I can’t imagine having time as I’ll use all my free time taking care of him.” Ugh, Celia

Then I said what I should have said first, as I grabbed her again, “I love you and I’m so sorry. What can I do? ” Her eyes filled with tears. My eyes filled with tears and the music in the background was little beeps from Max finishing up my scanning. Ahhh and here comes Christmas with all its jolliness and bright lights and me suggesting a chat over coffee and Christmas carols in the background.

Recently, I was with some other friends and I helped them with their family Christmas photo. I stood behind the photographer as he took their picture. I saw this beautiful family in front of me. When I tell you they were model material, I’m not kidding — any clothing store ad people would love this photo on their catalog cover — scarfs, hats, smiles, snow and I thought of pictures I’ve taken in years past. Beneath the smiles and poses there was so much more going on. My friend could have just smiled and told me that everything was great and I would never have known, but she didn’t. She really gave me a gift by telling me the whole story. Her smile quickly turned to tears as she shared the whole truth about this season for her family.

Okay, I am not saying we should slap a warning sticker on our Christmas portrait that says “objects appear happier than they are.” That can’t happen but it would be a fair warning.

Last year taking Max & Zach’s picture in front of the Christmas tree was a bit of a stretch. One of them kicked the other one and someone got poked in the eye. The whole time, I’m trying to get the perfect shot. “Boys… boys… stop that… look my way… smile… big… Max leave your brother alone… oh my Lord, you’ve got to be kidding.” I’m just trying to get both of them in the frame…. forget the smiles!

As I am writing this, I’m listening to “The Best of Michael McDonald.:The Christmas Collection.” When I say it has my favorite Christmas song, I am not kidding. The title is “Peace” and I can barely listen to it without crying. Michael and Beth Nielson Chapman wrote this incredible song. It is everything I wish for my friend in the checkout line, for those friends who took the Christmas picture, really, for all of us this season — is we will all find peace.

That I would fall to my knees this Christmas before the Christ child… become so real, so genuine this year with all that I offer Christ the only gift he needs and the only sacrifice I can truly make — all of me. The smiles me… the I’m hiding something me… Celia who lets others in me; the Celia who cares to share and know that what is behind the picture me….the Celia who tries to fix things with coffee me and the Celia who can’t fix it me….

In Christmas past it did seem easier when all I wanted was an easy bake oven, but Christ offers you and me much more than what we want, what we need this season ….may that peace be born in each of our hearts this Christmas.

May my friend find that peace as she begins this unknown journey and may Christ sustain her through these days. And you and I, may our picture be one filled with love–love we receive and love we unconditionally give. Not that our picture would just look like love, but may our lives be overflowing with God’s joy and may we know the source of that joy – a relationship with each other that is so real and rich that we grab each other and hold on and a relationship with the One who is holding on to us–who knows and loves us best. That one I believe is the Christ child.

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