She was bought by my grandma Sweetie in the 1960s and survived decades of Christmases, along with Joseph, Baby Jesus, and an assortment of gentle, porcelain barnyard animals — despite the perilous attentions of eight grandchildren. For the past decade, she has lived at my home, most of the year tucked in the dark safety of a high shelf, wrapped carefully in the same tissue my grandma had wrapped her in, in a box marked “White Porcelain Nativity” in my grandma’s unmistakable script. But this year, a member of my family went rearranging the precious contents of my high-up shelf in search of some other item, pulling the whole box down and setting it on the washing machine. Then another member of my family came by later and very kindly started a load of laundry — without thinking about the way a fairly light box might travel across the smooth wobbling surface of a washing machine on the spin cycle.
I found them on the floor behind the washing machine days later, and after a quick inspection, all seemed to be intact, encased in clouds of tissue. But a couple weeks later when I pulled the nativity set out in anticipation of Christmas, I found that Mary had not, in fact, fared so well. Gracious Mary, treasured possession of my dearly loved gram, had broken knees and a snapped halo. I was heartbroken and embarked on a frenzied rotation between super glue, Internet searches for rare porcelain figurines, and bemoaning the general carelessness of every member of my household. I managed to get her knees reattached, but the halo was basically hopeless—in too many small shards to reconstruct. The Internet searches were just as hopeless, because not only was my Mary old, she was rare—made in West Germany, which of course, no longer exists, much like my own dear grandma. It was one of those moments where a small thing suddenly makes everything seem broken and irrecoverable. Still I didn’t have the heart to wrap them up and put it all away. But you can’t really have a nativity and leave Baby Jesus with just Joseph and a couple of sheep, so I set out the entire little Holy Family, broken halo and all.
I’ll be honest, in the days that followed, it hurt a little to look at her. But daily as I passed her, saw her cracked, repaired knees and partial halo with the jagged un-shiny edge showing, she seemed to fit more and more in with this house of imperfect relationships, deeply broken bodies, and a good amount of dog hair and second-hand furniture. I am not opposed to the beauty and sparkle of Christmas. In the face of the enormous love and sacrifice of that first Christmas night, what can we do but offer our best, most beautiful, most joyful songs, decor, generous hearts, and homes? But how quickly I turn this all back on me and flip a reflection of His glory into a reflection on me and my skill, my competence, my glory. I would also not be the first to observe that these same songs, this gift-giving, and even decor often bear little resemblance to what occurred the night of Jesus’ birth — even our nativities.
But all those years I didn’t treasure the porcelain crêche only because it was old and valuable, or because it was beautiful, or even because it had belonged to my grandmother. No, Mary and Joseph gazing with wonder and delight at the newborn baby set out atop my dining room hutch also served as a regular reminder of what the season is really about, lest I become totally distracted by my house full of trees, cookies, Scandinavian elves, and twinkling lights, which are all festive but meaningless components of this annually distracted and sometimes derailed observation of the entrance of our Savior into human history. Simple Mary and her husband and Jesus in the manger were a frequent visual meditation for me amid the busyness and food. This is the thing, though, broken Mary is even better at this. With her cracks and snapped halo, she now reminds me even more so that no matter how accurately or inaccurately she has been depicted throughout the centuries, real Mary was, like me, broken and in desperate need not of repair but total restoration. Her worthiness lies not in her perfection but in her humbleness.
December has come and gone, with its various celebrations and casualties, and Broken Mary has interestingly turned out to be more encouragement than indictment. Now January is here and I still cannot put her away. In this next season of obsessive self-improvement, which rapidly devolves into self-castigation, she is daily evidence that all things — bodies, relationships, vocation, avocation, my own spirit — will ultimately wind up busted if left only in my hands.
But like so many other rendered Marys, with their merits and flaws, she shares one thing that is absolutely, perfectly right . . . her look of total amazement and love for the baby before her. Because this is the starting point, bowed down without even a glance in the mirror to adjust the lopsided halo or camouflage the ugly gray crack traversing her robe. She is too absorbed with Jesus to be consumed by her imperfections. I am glad, though, that I fixed her knees. She needs her knees. As do I — in December . . . and January . . . and February . . . And actually I am okay now with the fissured line of glue and even growing grateful for the jagged, cock-eyed halo. Because that look of humble wonder was not crushed — though the baby she watches one day would be — and her total, imperfect adoration prods my own spirit, in my home, with its brokenness of place and people, to also be imperfectly ready daily for the grandest entrance of perfect Love and Grace — and gratefully, humbly amazed.
Her worthiness lies not in her perfection but in her humbleness. #mothermary -Juliet Skuldt: Click To Tweet Leave a Comment
Thank you for this reminder! God doesn’t care if our decor is perfect or if we even have any Christmas decorations, he wants our hearts. He wants us to gaze on Jesus with that same rapt wonder and amazement as your Mary figurine, knowing that it is possible God loves us (who are so broken and imperfect) so much that He was willing to give up HIS perfection in Heaven to take on imperfect flesh. Yet because He was wholly God, He took on that flesh perfectly to show us how to live for His Father. He was broken for us, who are so unworthy. How humbling to know I am so unworthy, yet He would have died for me even if I were the only one on earth. What wondrous love is this, O my soul! Praise His name! Thank you, Juliet, for redirecting our thoughts back to that wonder as we humbly enter this new year that the Lord has given us.
Thank you, Sandra! Indeed, He wants our hearts!
Areum Lee says
She was humble, that is why God chose her! When she was told of Jesus’ birth, her words were, “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered.
So true, Areum! May we all be that willing and humble…
SHARON A says
That was such a beautiful reminder of where my heart and mind need to be. Thank you for sharing Broken Mary.
Thank you, Sharon!
M @ In Beautiful Chaos says
Beautiful! Your words spoke to my soul!
M @ In Beautiful Chaos
Thank you! “In Beautiful Chaos”…I love that!
What a beautiful true story of how our Lord uses things and situations to open our eyes to Him and ourselves and what is really important! And thank you for sending the picture of your Grandmother’s treasured nativity, understandably precious to you. Thank you for sharing your experience, very touching and meaningful.
Thank you, nj, for your kind words! They mean so much!
Michelle L. says
Juliet, I love every word of this post! You captured my feelings about Christmas and about “the season of obsessive self improvement “ which becomes so discouraging after a while. Thank you for showing the picture of your Mary. I want to be like her… messy, broken, but adoring Jesus. Blessings to you in the New Year!
Thank you, Michelle! Blessing to you this new year, as well!
Dawn Ferguson-Little says
Very well spoken. None of us are perfect. But God gave us the the best present we could have. That was Jesus who came as baby who was born in Manger. With no fancy airs or graces. Jesus came humbly to earth to save us that are not perfect and none of us are perfect. God Love us so much. That is why he sent his son Jesus into the world too show us how much he Loved. John 3 verse 16 says it so well. For God So loved the World he gave his only begotten Son. That whosoever believes in him shall not Perish. No greater love did God give us his Children of the World. Love Dawn Ferguson-Little xxx
Thank you, Dawn…So true that none of us are perfect, but the One who is was the most perfect example of true humility…How do we ever lose sight of that?
I am feeling very broken and flawed these days, your words and pictures touched a deep part of me.
Thank you for loving me despite everything, Jesus lover of my soul.
Thank you Juliet for your words.
Thank you, Linda, for your transparency…it’s not so comfortable feeling broken and flawed. But what a gift this community is for us to be broken and honest about it together!
Beth Williams says
Such great wisdom here. God doesn’t care about our decorations, gift giving, & all the hoopla we attach to Christmas. He wants us to look upon Him as lowly Mary did those many years ago. Mary is an amazing woman to be admired. She willing accepted what the Holy Spirit told her & humbly said yes. Yes to being willing to risk shame of her friends & family. Also yes to carrying the one true God of the universe. She treasured all those words & images in her heart. We would do well to do the same. Look at nativity scenes & remember what Christmas is truly about. A savior who left His splendor of Heaven to come to broken Earth. Just to save us from our sinful selves. What an awesome feat!! We should look upon Jesus with awe & wonder also.
Indeed, Beth! May we all follow her example of humble and willing servant! Thank you for sharing those reminders!
Stephanie Bucataru says
“She is too absorbed with Jesus to be consumed by her imperfections.” Thank you for these words, and this whole article. Such a blessed reminder to me today of Who really matters.
Thank you, Steph!!!