The old green chair would be empty this year. Samantha, my six year old and I had made that decision last week.
I only have two suits. One I had not wore since last Easter, when I last stepped inside a church. The other is in my closet, unworn since the funeral. I don’t know if I’m ever going to wear it again.
I remember that Easter very well. Samantha was the lead in a short play and Julie, ever the proud mother, was helping with the set-up. Even though Julie had sprained her wrist the week prior, she still was insistent she would help. My job was to leave work a few minutes early and swing by the house to delivery Samantha to the church. Julie said, if she could get away, she would pick up Sam for me. When I arrived at my car I saw one of Julie’s business cards tucked under the wiper. On the back she had written “I have her with me” and signed it “J:XO” Julie always signed her notes to me with the XO for kiss and hug. The “J:” was new. The special signature was the result of the sprain; she was writing with her lesser hand so she wrote less.
I grinned, tucked the card in my pocket, and forgot about it.
Until tonight – Christmas Eve. The first time I have had these pants on since that evening near last Easter.
Julie is gone. Cancer took her quickly in September leaving just Sam and me to share our first Christmas without her. It had been a tough half year. I wasn’t a church attender even though Julie’s life seemed absorbed by church stuff. Sam still went because a neighbor took her. But I wasn’t interested. I hadn’t been while Julie was here and I was even less interested now that she was gone.
Sam invited me week after week but my resolve was strong. Church was fine for Sam and Julie, but I no less believed in God than I did in Santa Claus; something I had told Sam on many occasions. I still did the things I knew Julie would have wanted for Sam. I let her go to church and listened while she prayed. I didn’t even mind hearing her pray for me. It showed she loved me and I was okay with that. Lately she had been very insistent with God that He show me a sign He existed. Truth of it is, I was on board with that. If God could show me a sign, I would make a change. The ball was in His court. It was stubborn and proud, and maybe even a little disrespectful, but I too said, “Show me a sign. Prove yourself to me and I might be willing to make a life change.” I expected nothing.
It was Christmas Eve. As was my tradition, we were headed to church. Twice a year; Christmas and Easter. Sam was finishing getting ready trying to fix her hair just right. I was in the living room looking at the dismal tree in a sparsely decorated room. I didn’t have the knack Julie had for decorating. Sam and I had done the best we could, frequently stopping to dwell in the emptiness of a house, and a season, without a wife and mother. Sam liked to curl up on Julie’s lap for mother and daughter time in the green chair in the corner. It was tough for me to see it and I had asked Sam about removing it, but that made her cry. She wanted to keep it because, “It still smelled as nice as mommy.”
I didn’t understand any of this. Why was Julie taken? Why leave me to raise a little girl; clearly I was not qualified for such a challenge. Why with so much pain could I ever imagine there was a caring God somewhere out there. And yet Sam kept praying every night I would see a sign.
I idly reached my hand into my pocket and felt the long forgotten card. “I have her with me.” At first I chuckled and then, for some reason, it made me angry to read those words now.
I flipped the card away from me and watched as it landed in the center of the green chair.
We went to church, we sang some songs, we heard a Bible reading, we sat quietly while people occasionally glanced over at us with looks of pity, and we came home.
I stood at her bedroom door and listened while Sam prayed. She thanked “God” because I came to church, she thanked Him for baby-Jesus, and once again she asked for the sign. I tucked her in, kissed her forehead, and left for my own empty bed. Julie’s Bible still rested on the side-table next to the bed. I thought it was funny how much I wanted to get rid of that green chair, yet I had never removed that Bible. I picked it up and held it to my face. Just as Sam had described the chair, the Bible too, smelled like Julie. It comforted me for a moment, then made me sad, and then, I was angered. I tossed the Bible to the corner of the room missing my target; the garbage bin. I swore and crawled into bed.
I awoke the next morning to a very excited six-year-old pulling on my arm.
“Daddy, Daddy; it’s here! It came!”
“Yes Honey,” I said, “Christmas came.”
“No Daddy, I don’t mean that! It came Daddy. The sign; it came.”
She continued to pull my arm yanking me out of the bed and down the hall. She pointed to the business card I had tossed on the green chair.
“It’s a message from Jesus,” she squealed.
Confused I said, “No Honey, that’s….”
“And Jesus signed it Daddy.” She picked up the card and read it to me.
“I have her with me. Jesus says mommy is with Him. I know He means mommy because her name is on the other side of the card. That’s not Mommy’s writing; it has to be Jesus. And He signed it. See the J Daddy?”
“But what about the X and the O Sam, do you think Jesus would sign it hugs and kisses.”
“He might,” she said, “but I don’t think that’s what it means. The X is the cross and the O is the stone that He rolled away when he came back to life. That’s how I know it’s Him.”
I wanted to correct her. I wanted to tell her the truth, but I couldn’t because I no longer believed it myself. It all seemed so coincidental; so concocted, and yet this whole moment, the events that led to this instant began months ago and so many little details needed to happen for it all to make sense to this little girl. I couldn’t help but agree; I believed it was God’s sign.
Then I did something I had not done in months; I sat in the green chair. I asked Sam to get the Bible from the corner of the bedroom. Sam crawled up on my lap and we read the Christmas story together. Somehow we felt like a family again.
I can’t remember how long it was before Sam opened any of the gifts under the tree. Her favorite gift wasn’t even wrapped.