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A Glowing Reunion

From The Joys of Christmas 2014: The four of them looked like a complete family. There was no place for her anymore…or was there?

An artist's rendering of a family gathered at a candlelight service

Sit together. Every time that I prayed about what to do at the Christmas Eve candlelight service at my church, I got the same answer from God. Reach out to Nina. Make amends. Sit together.

I glanced at my phone. I imagined myself texting my ex-husband’s new wife. My heart thumped hard in my chest. I couldn’t text her. Not yet. But if not now, when?

It was Christmas Eve, and in a matter of hours I’d have to walk into the church sanctuary. Nina would be there, like it or not. Bryan would be there, along with our teenage boys, Nick and Tyler.

Last year’s service still burned in my memory. I’d taken a seat in the front, waiting for the rest of my family to arrive. The sanctuary gleamed with fir wreaths and silver tinsel. The lights dimmed. The parishioners stood up, candles in hand, and swayed back and forth to the opening notes of “Silent Night.”

The door in the back creaked open. I swiveled around in the pew. Nick and Tyler filed in, their father trailing close behind—along with Nina. They slipped into an empty pew in the back row, not even looking in my direction. I watched them take off their coats, light their candles.

The four of them look like a complete family, I thought. But what about me? Where do I belong?

I couldn’t let that happen again. Not this year. I didn’t want bitter feelings to destroy my Christmas, or anyone else’s. I had spent the whole day getting ready—I wanted to look pretty tonight. Happy and confident. My favorite black dress was laid out on the bed. Matching high heels.

The diamond-pendant necklace that I wore for special occasions, like an amulet. Please, Lord, let this candlelight service be different. Please give me the gift of acceptance.

I picked up my phone and clicked on Nina’s number. “Hi, Nina,” I typed. I didn’t know what to say next. I hit the backspace button, deleting what I’d written. The pain of the past few years flashed through my mind. 

Getting through the divorce. Forcing myself to go to work as a first-grade teacher each day. Nick and Tyler going to live with their father down the street. Then Bryan’s marriage to Nina, who also worked as a first-grade teacher in our small town. It was all so humiliating.

Facebook didn’t help. One night after I’d finished grading my students’ worksheets, I logged in to check up on my boys. Big mistake. All I could look at were photos of them with their father and Nina. Out at restaurants. Barbecuing in the backyard. At the park, or their football games.

I used to be in those pictures, I thought.

One day I got a text from Tyler. “Mom, I want Nina to stand up with me, you and Dad at Senior Night. I just wanted to let you know.” Senior Night was a celebration for athletes at the high school.

What would it look like for all three of us to parade across the field? Nina and I are both teachers—everyone would know our drama. And they would all see how disposable I was.

“Can you please reconsider?” I’d texted back. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Tyler didn’t reply for hours. I checked my phone over and over. Finally, he messaged back. “Nina is family. End of discussion.”

Tyler’s words cut me deeply. For days after, I barely ate or slept. I dragged myself to class. Senior Night finally came. I couldn’t even feel proud. I was a shell. Lord, I can’t keep living with all this turmoil in my heart, I prayed. Please help me!

I linked my arm through Tyler’s as we walked across the football field. On his other side, he linked arms with Bryan, who linked arms with Nina. I kept my smile pasted on. Do this for your son, I told myself. Be mature.

Afterward, I gave him a big hug. And then, without thinking, I hugged Nina and Bryan good-bye. For a brief moment, the tension lifted. What relief!

“I’m sorry I didn’t want you to come,” I whispered to Nina. “I’m glad you did.”

“Thank you,” she said. She seemed to mean it. Maybe things really could be different. Maybe in time for this year’s Christmas Eve service.

All summer and fall, I read my Bible, searching for peace. Every night, I prayed about what I should do. I got my answer all right. It scared me. Sit together.

Together? Like a family? No way! Our little hug at Senior Night was one thing, but Christmas Eve was something else. I remembered all the Christmases I’d spent with the boys, baking cookies, putting ornaments on the tree. Together. Like a family.

Now, holding my phone, I remembered what Tyler had said. Nina is family.

Maybe not the family I was used to, not the family I’d imagined when I first started raising my boys, not the family I’d prayed for when I got married. But she was important to Bryan, and my boys loved her too.

My sons had already accepted her—now it was my turn. I picked up my phone and typed a new message.

“Let’s make a unified front tonight at church,” I wrote. “Let’s sit together.” My finger lingered over the send button. I paused several long minutes….then pressed down. Am I going to regret this? I wondered. But there was no way to take it back.

A moment later, my phone buzzed. Nina. “OK!” she’d written.

That night, I sat in the front pew, my hair done up, my black dress freshly ironed. I fiddled nervously with my pendant and glanced around the sanctuary, tinsel and poinsettias f lanking the altar.

Familiar faces greeted me. Parents from school. People I’d known all my life. But no sign of Brian, Nina and the boys. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about last year, how devastated I’d felt. Was that going to happen again?

Behind the pulpit, the pastor signaled for us to stand for the first hymn. I could hardly move. I shouldn’t have texted, I thought. Nothing’s ever going to change.

Just then, the door at the back of the sanctuary creaked open. I turned and saw Nina ushering Bryan, Nick and Tyler inside. I waved. At first, she didn’t see me. Then our eyes met. She smiled.

Nina led everyone down toward my pew. Bryan looked confused at first, but after a moment his expression softened. He smiled too. Nick and Tyler waved as they took their seat at the end of the pew—right in my row.

While the minister spoke, I clasped my hands. God, fill me with your peace. Touch Nina, Nick and Tyler with your love. Bless the father of my children too. Please, Lord, heal this whole family!

With each request, my body relaxed. My hands loosened. My heartbeat slowed. One by one, we lit the small white candles we held, and with each one I felt bitterness and anger leave me.

The sanctuary glowed. We sang the final notes of “Silent Night.” We moved closer. It was Christmas Eve, when all are family.

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