A Story for Saint Nicholas’ Day:
In 2012, after completing my Master’s degree, I moved into my first house as an adult without roommates. I adopted my first dog in preparation for a domestic life with a husband and children that were surely soon to follow. I began to prepare for a life that I didn’t have yet, but one that I planned to start living as soon as possible. I spent thousands of dollars decorating my home for Christmas that year, and then I didn’t take any of the decorations down for seven years.
Aside from the mind-numbing, soul-crushing, life-pausing clinical depression that enveloped my mid to late-20s, submerging me in a fog of morbid reflection and general malaise, there was little reason for my life becoming a sort of reverse Narnia. It was always Christmas, but never winter, inside my Texas home. A second dog came into my life to be adopted, but the husband and children failed to make an appearance. Every time I felt the urge to take down my Christmas decor, usually on a blistering summer day when my mom-sized SUV’s thermometer read 117 degrees Fahrenheit, a stronger urge within me said to “Wait…Wait…Wait…” I’d crank up the air conditioning, turn on some Christmas music, and get cozy on the couch with some hot cocoa. August energy bills be damned.
After the first few years, my family knew to stop asking about the perpetual Christmas decor. They joked that my tree had become an endangered spider habitat. They marveled that I was always the first person in the neighborhood to have my Christmas lights and decorations up…failing to mention it was because I had never taken them down. They knew that I truly meant it when I said I would take down the decorations next weekend, next month, after the next holiday, and then never.
I left my Christmas wreath on my front door until March, because I reasoned that it had a red bow, which made it fitting for Valentine’s Day. Therefore, it stayed displayed with an over-the-door hook from late October until early March, when I simply turned the wreath the other way to hang on the inside of my front door. Whenever I received a box in the mail, I’d put it under the Christmas tree for a few days before I opened it in a moment of solitary gift giving splendor. “Look what I got for me!” I hoarded Christmas cheer. I had become a Dickensian character. It was as if I had taken the spirit of Christmas from Mr. Fezziwig, and then sat with Miss Havisham at her dining table, watching everything collect dust and cobwebs, deteriorating and rotting. I waited with her, but I had no idea why. I just knew I needed to stop the clocks and wait. He was coming, I just knew it. He had to.
I thought I was waiting for my husband, who would give me my children, and then (and only then) my life would start in earnest. I would have meaning, worth, value in the eyes of my family, my community, and my church. I would love and be loved. My children would love all the Christmas decorations I had acquired for them before they had even existed. Pets aren’t children, they come and go, but hand-blown glass ornaments painted by Polish craftsmen are forever, or at least until my biological child smashes it to pieces. I spent holiday season after holiday season without my phantom children, waiting for them. I only slept on one side of the bed, saving room for a husband who never arrived. I cooked holiday meals no one ate, and bought gifts of toys, clothes, and books that I donated to other children. I attended Mass after Mass longing for the day I’d belong to a family that filled the pew. For now, it was me. Just me. Always me. I wasn’t enough.
I looked so long and so hard for the life I thought I had to have in order to earn God’s love, that I lost sight of God altogether. I reasoned that I’d find God again after I found a husband and children first. My God-given longing for love had gotten twisted. In prayer one day, I realized that if I had to choose between God or a husband and children, I’d choose the husband and children in a heartbeat. I was alarmed, but unsurprised, at how natural apostasy comes. I so longed for a spouse in suburbia that I was willing to sacrifice a Divine relationship in Paradise. Ever the pragmatist, tangible reality has always attracted me more than ephemeral divinity. Doctrine and virtue don’t pay the bills.
Today is the feast day of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker, you might have heard of him referred to as Santa Claus. Like many Saints, he thought Doctrine and Virtue were kind of a big deal. He was a Turkish bishop in the third century who is remembered, among other things, for hagiographically slapping the heretic Arius at the Council of Nicaea. Arius had really twisted the identity of God into something He is not, and enough people believed him that it was a problem.
St. Nicholas was also known for his penchant for secret gift-giving, which I suppose makes it not-so-secret. The story goes that he left gold for three daughters to have a dowry and marriage rather than be forced into a life of third-century child sex trafficking. How he got associated with Christmas, the North Pole, elves, and reindeer is a story for a different day, but he is the reason Dutch children get candies in their shoes on December 6th each year. You can visit his relics in Italy if you’re ever in a particularly festive mood, brought there courtesy of 11th century sailors engaged in “holy robbery.”
As I took down my Christmas tree in March 2019 after seven years in my abode, I thought of God’s words to Joel, “I will repay you for the years that the swarming locusts have eaten.” Of course, the locusts were sent by God in the first place, and I do not know what to make of that. I have no idea why I never met a husband or had children, or if I ever will. As my depression has lifted, I have realized that I am exactly where God would have me be. Taking down my Christmas decorations this year, the Advent of my Life has been restored. I do not have to wait for someone else to arrive who will make me happier or more worthy of love, because God is already with me as Emmanuel, God with us. I do not have to wait to have my own children to participate in the lives of children in my community and in life-changing initiatives around the world. I am neither Fezziwig, nor Havisham. I am exactly who God made me to be, and the fuller I live into that reality, the more connected I will be to the One who made me. I thank St. Nicholas for keeping me company and waiting with me these past seven years. I am grateful for the wonders he worked in my life in restoring a right relationship with Our Creator.
Come Holy Spirit.
Rachel Lamb, a lifelong Texan, earned her Master of Divinity degree with a certificate in Anglican Studies from Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in 2011. After being offered a position as a pro-abortion chaplain with the Episcopal Church, she began volunteering with the pro-life movement, and entered the Catholic Church in 2014. Rachel enjoys speaking consistent truth to the value of all life, and finding common ground within the pro-life and feminist movements.