To the fireplace

Last week I was in Ventura for pretty much the entire week since it was Thanksgiving and we had some family stuff planned. On Friday night, Charisse had her little friend Emma spent the night. Charisse got an Elf on the Shelf two years ago and was dying for it to come out – we decorated the tree that night and the rule is that once the tree is all the way decorated, Christmas magic brings Ethen (spelled the way a six-year-old spells). We had told Emma at a previous play date about Ethen and she asked her mom the day before the sleepover, “Mom, how come the elf comes to Charisse’s house but not ours?”

Thankfully we had two elves stashed away in the garage for overseas family that were never mailed. The night of the sleepover, Emma wrote a letter to Santa asking her to bring an elf, and to make it a girl if possible.

It was all downhill from there. Emma freaked the heck out. At first she was just a little anxious about the elf and had a lot of questions. “What if it comes in Charisse’s room while we’re asleep? I don’t know it to come in the room. Is it scary? What if I accidentally touch it?” My mom and I tried to reassure her that all of the elves were nice, and she seemed reasonably calm. I even helped her write a PS to Santa asking that the elf stay in the living room – she dictated and I wrote, and then I made the mistake of signing my name which made Emma fear that Santa would think the letter was from me and that he wouldn’t bring any elf. A little while later, we had this conversation:

Emma: Krista, what if the elf doesn’t come because I’ve been bad? Then I’d just be embarrassed because everyone would know that I’m bad.

Me: Emma. Have you robbed a bank this year?

Emma: No.

Me: Have you stolen money?

Emma: No.

Me: Did you beat anyone up?

Emma: No.

Me: Do you mostly listen to your mom and dad and mostly listen to your teacher at school?

Emma: Yes.

Me: Then I think you’re in the clear. Good girls don’t do those things.

All seemed well. We put the girls to bed around 9:30, dealt with the elves, putting them in very normal, neutral, non-scary places (the fireplace for Charisse’s elf and the entertainment stand for Emma’s, who was a girl because we had an elf skirt with last year’s purchase). My mom and I went to bed and crashed hard.

At 1:47 I heard Emma sobbing hysterically and my mom asking her, “Emma. Has anything bad ever happened to you at my house?” Emma’s been over a lot, and she knows my mom well. She said no and my mom reassured her it was safe. So together, we took the girls into the living room. Charisse as giddy with the prospect of the elf being there. She has seen him before. He’s come about 50 times over the last two years and she knows he is a safe, non-scary elf. She ran right up to the fireplace and squealed, jumping up and down. “Mama mama!” she shouted. “Ethen came! He’s here!”

Emma, meanwhile, was still standing a far distance from the fireplace. Despite the fact that I was exhausted and had to get up early the next morning, I took Emma’s hand and slowly we walked to where her elf had been left. She saw it but didn’t say anything. I bent down close to her ear and whispered, “Look, it’s a girl! She’s wearing a skirt!” in my happiest, cheeriest, elves-are-funnnnn voice. Emma reached out slowly to touch a note the elf had on her lap, then pulled it back quickly as though she was afraid touching the note was just as against the rules as touching the elf.

My mom tucked them back in bed and that’s the last I heard of them until 6:37 when Charisse shook me awake and asked if they could go see them. (Apparently Emma woke Charisse up at 4-something, wanting to see the elves again.) I staved them off until seven, at which point I couldn’t handle the sound of the rotisserie chicken infomercial the girls were watching in Charisse’s room. So I took them out and let them enjoy being eight.

As my mom was tucking Emma into bed after she first saw her elf early in the morning, I was struck by the fact that she was so scared and yet Charisse was so excited. She couldn’t wait for the fun to come. Her wonder came from the same place as Emma’s fear. It strikes me as so stranger, how something that is as magical and fun as the elf on the shelf can bring up two such very different emotions.

But the thing is, Jesus causes both wonder and fear. The very act of being a Christian is seen very differently by people all over the world. I remember the days where I walked away from God. The thought of His presence was something that made me tremble. It scared me horribly. I wanted Him so badly, but no… I knew I just couldn’t have Him again. Not because I didn’t want Him, but because I had worked myself up at the thought of the “What if”s.

What if He didn’t forgive me of all I had done?

I always will, He said.

What if He wasn’t real?

I am who I saw I am, He said.

What if I couldn’t trust my only Christian friends?

Here’s a new friend who will love you, He said.

And in that new friend, through our conversations, I found someone to walk me to the fireplace, to look at my elf.

She’s seen Me before, He said. She will tell you.

The truth that He is nothing to fear. That He is love and everlasting and has overcome death and hell. That He is real and loves all of you who may be reading this, now or someday far away. That He is holy, holy, holy and that He alone is God. But we get so caught up in our fear of Him, of the lives we have lived before we knew His eternal truths. We justify our lives and hide from Him but hiding from Him never works. In our fear — and more often our shame — He still seeks us, there, until we are ready. And oh, the reward when we are ready. This is what I know now:

No circumstance can take me from Him. Nothing in this life is greater than He is nor will anything ever be. He is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega.

I am not an eight-year-old weeping over an elf. But I am a 29-year-old grieving for the girl I was. I am a young woman striving to love God is a dark world. I am learning to let go of the shame and allow God, who is all holy, to heal me and use me. I still want all of the same things that small, shaking girl whose hand I held wants: to be safe and to be reassured that there is nothing to fear.

I am Wonder, He says. There is no more fear.

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