Christmas Letter 2016: The Innkeeper's Wife
I sit in the corner of the kitchen, which now warms the house with a dull glow, on this night that is finally falling silent. I remove my calloused feet from their shabby sandals and slip them into the bowl of warmed water that my dear younger son has filled. I ruffle his olive-colored hair; he smiles and groggily shuffles back to bed. I will sit here a moment longer, hands open-palmed in my lap, and breathe in the melting dust of all these sleeping travelers. Ours is a small inn, but my husband and I find use for every corner. Our three children will soon be grown, and then the rooms of this inn will yawn in emptiness.
Now, I yawn mightily. Oh Lord, they come so weary these travelers, weary from cold nights, cold meats, cold hearts met along the road. And so many of them! They all gather for the census, all these descendants of David. My husband’s family is among them; so I suppose, these are all my brothers and sisters, these weary travelers. The world yawns in fullness.
The night is unusually bright; the stars shine luminously through the chilly air. My husband says it may be an omen.
I languish a moment longer as the footbath turns as cool and silent as the night it reflects. On the floor around me sleep the children of these families. The little lambs sleep layered upon one another like woolen dolls, fold upon fold of careless dreaminess. Their parents slumber deeply in the next room, two-by-two. But here they fling out their limbs and blankets with wanton wherewithal, as if they alone were the children of God. Only children can litter a floor to such perfection.
I rise to stir the embers and get myself to bed. My husband will be awaiting me with his crinkled forehead and his heavy worries. It has been such a long day, and we will need to rise early, for this inn is full to bursting. Oh Lord, how you try me. There is not room for even one more pilgrim soul. These wayward wanderers lie in sin and error pining, but in goodness and obedience trying.
A knock on the door: boomboomboom. Tentative, pleading. I close my eyes and shake my head. I sigh. I look around, listening to the sonorous breathing of my guests. Again, boomboomboom. This time more urgent. I know who I will find on the other side of the door before I open it: Another family. Another frayed bundle. Another sojourner’s tale.
But I’m wrong. The hinges creak to reveal just two people. A young husband holds tightly to the hand of his timid wife who hides behind him, letting him shield her from a world that could reject the needy. Her eyes, though – her eyes speak of …fear? Why should she be fearful on such a bright, silent night? And then I see -- oh Lord, why do you try me so? -- I see her rounded belly and understand: it’s not just two people; it is three.
“Please, dodah” says he. “I’m sorry it is so late. But these last two miles, we had to stop often.”
Now my own daughter – my budding, blue-eyed beauty – appears at the top of the stairs behind me, wrapped in sleepy shawls of her own long day’s work. She knows instinctively that she is needed; she has a woman’s heart. Her eyes dart from our new anxious travelers to the crowded rooms, and intuitively she knows, as I do, what must be done.
And now the young woman’s face tightens, her knees buckle. Her husband catches her and (oh Lord, how you try me!) her time is already here.
My daughter turns to rouse her father and her two brothers and then races down to us. We three help the young wife stumble to the stable. My men now overtake us, having soundlessly stolen down the stairs. They begin their work immediately, wordlessly.
My younger son, with a knowing whisper, gently coaxes the animals out of their stalls. My daughter, with swift feet, fetches the water and the cloths. My older son, with deft hands (oh, dear Lord, no longer a child’s hands), meticulously wipes out the trough and stacks it with fresh hay. My husband, who constructed this stable himself, with steadfast purpose, encloses it for privacy.
The men depart. Now my daughter and I ready this once-fearful, now-resolute young woman, who grabs my roughened hand and glares with fierce prayer into my eyes to tell me, “It is time.” I fall on my knees.
And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped him in cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn (Luke 2:7).
Another child. Another miracle. Another pilgrim soul. The child wails so heartily that I release an old woman’s chuckle. It’s as though he can’t wait to get started, this brave little man.
Our men return to gaze upon the child. The weary world of us rejoices in our quiet hearts. My unwavering husband, my robust sons, my resilient daughter, we yawn in fullness and return to the inn to sleep for a few precious hours. Tomorrow, we five must rise and prepare to serve again. For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
This Christmas Season, we wish unto you a soul that wholly feels its worth.
Where there is room for interpretation, let us think the best of one another.
Where there appears to be no space in our exhausted, crowded lives,
let us make room for one another.
Merry Christmas 2016 from the McKeagneys