The Lesson of the Nativity
Who could have guessed that a plaster Nativity set would ignite the spark of hope, lost years before?
Christmas was only seven weeks away, and I needed to go to the Sister Kenny Pain Center at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in the Twin Cities.
Everyone had given up on my recovery, including one of the best physicians I’ve ever met. “I’m sending you to Sister Kenny to learn how to live with your disability.” His words chilled me to the bone. My back, neck, and brain injuries continued to rob me of my job and my life. The head-on collision had been three years earlier, and I could see minimal improvement.
Shortly before I headed to Sister Kenny, I found a gift my grandfather had given me when I was little. I shared that story with the Dunn County News community at Christmas several years ago.
The rules were clear at Sister Kenny. I would have no contact with the outside world for the first two weeks. During those two weeks, They poked and prodded me, hooked me up to electrodes, examined me with thermal infra-red imaging, and put me through a myriad of exercises and homemaking shortcuts. I hated not being with my children. What were they doing? Were they eating healthy or going to McDonald’s every night?
The sessions at the Pain Center lasted from sunup to bedtime each day. The only good parts of the day were the time spent with a biofeedback instructor and in the therapeutically heated pool. During those two periods of the day, I barely felt the pain that crippled my body.
I went into the program with a prayer to God for healing and a promise to Grandpa that once again I’d believe in the miracle of the “I Can.”
My two weeks as an inmate were finally up. They would allow me to go home for the weekend to see my family before returning for another four weeks of treatment at the Pain Center.
The boys were ecstatic to see me come through the front door on Friday evening. Two weeks were the most extended separation I’d ever experienced, and the joy of our reunion overwhelmed me.
On Saturday, I took them to the Ben Franklin store. They deserved an outing, and I wanted to get some little gift for each of them to celebrate my return home.
The boys scampered around the store checking out the various toys, candy, and books.
What would they choose?
It was difficult to stay on my feet more than three hours a day back then, but it was impossible to hurry them up. A shopping trip between Halloween and Christmas was unheard of, and they were going to enjoy every minute of it.
I made my way carefully around the store and found myself in the craft department. I loved creating crafts before the accident. Because money was always so tight, I’d made the Christmas gifts for the extended family members for years. As I looked at all the evergreen and ribbon now adorning the shelves, my eye spotted a box on the bottom shelf. A small sign on it read ‘close-out.’
I reached into the box and pulled out an unpainted plaster baby Jesus in a manger. The sight of it transported me back to my childhood. The Nativity creche was always the very first Christmas decoration Mother put out each year. I loved moving the characters around inside the wooden structure with the thatch roof when I was little. I remembered how careful I was with each piece.
My heart started beating faster. Could I possibly recreate one of my favorite Christmas memories for my kids?
The baby Jesus looked vulnerable nestled into the hay. And yet, the lessons of my childhood taught me what this small child could accomplish in the years to come.
I knelt and carefully replaced the child. My fingers touched another figure, and I pulled it out. One of the wise men seemed to look directly at me like Grandpa used to do. Instantly my mind transported back to the 50’s when my brother played one of the Kings in the church pageant. I could see him standing there in the costume Mom helped put together.
Tears filled my eyes as I looked down at my useless left arm. My control of it was spotty at best. How could I paint these life-like characters when I had trouble sending the right messages from my brain?
The Answers Provided
I gently placed the Wise Man back in the box and forced myself back up to my feet.
The store was busy with shoppers that day. My journey up the aisle to find the boys took me past the paint department. I had nearly walked past the cans of spray paint when I stopped suddenly. Didn’t my mom sell paint? Didn’t I help her refinish some old dressers with a base coat of paint and then use a soft cloth to rub some walnut stain on them to make it look like wood?
I picked up a small can of stain and another can of spray paint.
The boys were waiting for me at the register with their choices.
“Could you please carry up the box with the unfinished nativity set?” I asked the young man at the register.
After I paid for our purchases, the young man carried the box out to the car for me.
The Nativity – The Beginning of New Hope
That weekend, I managed to use the spray paint and give the characters a base coat of paint. Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus received a coat of stain before I returned to Sister Kenny. It was a beginning. However, I still had three shepherds, three Magi, two sheep, a camel, two cows, a donkey and an angel to do.
I finished the nativity just days before Christmas. Sitting on the mantle that year, they looked like carved wood.
I told the boys stories about the nativity program at church, and the crèche mom always had sitting on the buffet at Christmas.
It was the beginning of my recovery. For the first time in three years, I’d accomplished something beautiful. I did it by myself, and it brought a renewed hope of working my way back to the life I lost on a highway near Lakeville Minnesota in 1979.
This Christmas season, I wish you the love of family, the peace of understanding, the courage of striving to do your best, and a world filled with compassion and respect.
In memory of Virginia Burton Grimes, I share her favorite Christmas song. We love you, Mom!