I know what he means. The house we’re staying in for the holidays in Florida doesn’t have a Christmas tree, or lights or stockings or even a fireplace for that matter. We didn’t bring the ceramic nativity that sits on our coffee table at home or our stash of Christmas CDs. Not only is the decorative accoutrement of Christmas lacking, I’m also missing the everyday spiritual scaffolding that props up my faith.
Even though I’d packed my Bible with the best intentions, it sits in the bottom of my suitcase, unopened.
On vacation I forego my early morning quiet time and sleep in instead.
We skip church and get lazy with dinnertime devotions.
I forget to pray.
There I am, two days before Christmas, and it feels like Jesus has gone AWOL. Without my routines I feel spiritually un-moored. Christmas feels hollow, empty. Suddenly I don’t trust that I can find God without a host of carefully orchestrated rituals.
On Christmas Eve my oldest son, Noah, and I stand in the darkness on the back patio, the full moon casting a spotlight across the smooth water. He holds a flashlight in his hand, flicking the beam over the concrete like a strobe light. Suddenly he stops, training the light on an area under the shrub. Noah lies with his belly on the pavement, legs stretched behind him, chin nearly to the ground, the flashlight now angled on a single spot beneath the hedge.
“Mommy,” he whispers, not daring to turn his head in my direction,
“Come and look, but walk very, very slowly.” I inch toward my son and cautiously lower myself to my knees, my palms resting on the hard pavement.
“Look,” he says, pointing, “Look how tiny.”
I don’t see it at first, but when I sink lower and finally glimpse what Noah is pointing at, I gasp. It’s a lizard, pale, miniscule, about half the size of my pinkie finger, lying motionless on the cement beneath the hedge. At first I think it might be dead, until I notice its translucent torso wrinkling inward and then ballooning out with each breath.
Noah and I crouch side by side, watching the lizard breathe, marveling at its four tiny claws, its eyes smaller than the tip of a ballpoint pen. We stay that way for a long time, the beam of the flashlight casting a narrow shaft of light under the dark hedge, the lizard quiet and still, breathing fast. “Let’s see what he does when I turn off the light,” Noah says, clicking off the flashlight and then quickly turning it back on.
The lizard is gone, leaving only empty concrete in the beam.
We stand up, laughing, brushing sand from our palms, still marveling over the delicate lizard. It’s only then, as I smooth my shorts and rub the grit from my hands, that I realize I’ve been on my knees.
[Photo: Jesse Wagstaff, Creative Commons]