Things are truly underway now for the season. 8 events this past weekend. More than I care to count for the next week.
But the blessing from it is that I get to meet and pray over lots of people. I get to hear stories, see the look of wonder in the eyes and gain humility. There is no way that I can ever measure up to the looks those little ones give me sometimes. They adore me. Well, not me, but Santa. I am him from the moment The Red Suit goes on until I’ve shampooed the beard at the end of the day. And during that day I had best keep up the presence that is Santa for all who come to see me.
Sometimes it’s easy. You get gurgling babies that want nothing at all and sleep for most of the picture. Sometimes it’s gorgeous moms that want to sit on Santa’s knee. Sometimes it’s dad, and he wants a gag photo with Santa. Most of the time it’s little ones with a list, a dream and a belief that I will talk to Rudolph and the elves and get their toy squared away without a hitch.
And, other times, like this past weekend, there are difficult children. Children with emotional problems who are so angry or maladjusted that they want to tear out Santa’s beard, punch him in the … yeah, there, or tear his clothing. Angry for a valid reason or none at all, they are God’s children as well and I try to treat them that way. Doesn’t mean that I don’t block the blows or remove the clenched fist from my beard, but I try to do it gently.
Still other times it’s a child with a special need. I’ll call her Shelly. Shelly has been coming to an event I’ve done for many years. I first remember being aware of her about three or four years ago when I glimpsed her hiding from me behind the other children.
She’s much bigger now, but when I first saw her she was fairly small in stature. She was terrified of eye contact and sought to steal a glimpse of me when I wasn’t looking. She didn’t want her picture with Santa, she didn’t want the candy cane I offered, but she sat in rapt attention while I read “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” to the kids.
Afterward her father told me that she was a special kid and didn’t socialize well with the others, but she seemed to like me. (If only I’d had that effect on women in college!)
The next year she sat a little closer to the front and made occasional eye contact with me but still at a distance. I sat quietly in my chair and just spoke in soft tones to her, trying not to spook her any worse than she was already.
This year she actually ventured up to take a picture near me. Not on my knee, not even standing right next to me but a few feet away. Close enough to get a picture with Santa but not have to touch him. I thought this was a huge step forward for her and was tickled that she came forward. She made eye contact more than ever before and actually gave me some really nice smiles.
After the event, my last of the evening, I lingered while the minivan parade assembled in the parking lot and the staff cleaned up the party area. Shelly’s mom was helping with the clean up, and Shelly stood about 10 feet away. I gave her a smile and talked to her about not much of anything, just an attempt to break through that silence that enveloped her. She’d never spoken a word to me, and she looked just like the deer do when they wander into my neighborhood… like they will bolt at any second and run out on the freeway to get away.
And then, a miracle happened. She was sitting on a low ledge that ran along the South wall of the room. And from her seat she patted the area next to her, indicating that I should come and sit next to her. I hadn’t been that touched by an invitation in many years. That Shelly, a girl who was in mortal fear of most things in life, who never spoke a word, who never took a picture on my knee, and who was seemingly locked in her own world would reach out to this giant man in a red suit with a gesture of friendship was amazing to me. I quietly got out of my chair and walked over to sit next to her. She smiled at me and I offered my hand to hold. That scared her, but instead of running away, she just moved over six inches and stopped. And the two of us just sat there, in our own world for the next five minutes. We traded nothing but smiles and thoughts, but it was enough. It was magical.
I was honored that she’d let me into that world. And I hope that she felt the love I have for children come through that wall she’s got around her. I think she did. She left after I did that night, but when I said good night to everyone she was smiling. And I was too.
Sometimes God gives us a simple smile as the greatest miracle in our lives for that week, or month. This smile was my miracle for 2011. Merry Christmas, Shelly. Santa and God both love you and pray for you. See you in 2012.