Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Happy Birthday, Barbara Robinson!

It's the 79th birthday of author Barbara Robinson. I had a chance to hear her speak, a number of years ago now, at Cabrini College. I was in the back of a packed auditorium and honestly remember little about the event except for the fact that I was very happy to be in a room listening to the warm and creative woman who had given the world the character of Imogene Herdman.

Imogene was the lead brat in a pack of bratty brothers and sisters featured in Robinson's sure-to-someday-be-a-classic The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, published in 1972. It's an amazing book, managing to be both really funny and yet poignant at the same time, especially in its endearing ending. I almost defy anyone who reads this book with an open heart not to laugh when Leroy Herdman brings his family's Christmas ham as a gift to the manger, or not to cry when the wonder of Christ's birth finally breaks over irreverent Imogene Herdman, who's connived her way into playing Mary in the local church pageant.

I think it's one of my favorite moments in any Christmas story -- and I love a lot of Christmas stories.

Imogene Herdman was crying.

In the candlelight her face was all shiny with tears and she didn't even bother to wipe them away. She just sat there -- awful old Imogene -- in her crookedy veil, crying and crying and crying.

Well. It was the best Christmas pageant we ever had.

What's so wonderful about this scene, aside from its good storytelling sense, is that I think most of us have some Imogene Herdman in us. If we're honest, some of us have Imogene Herdman moments -- or days -- or perhaps even years. We know what it's like to be clumsy and broken, to not fit in anywhere, to have to take care of other people when sometimes we'd love if it people would take care of us for a change. We hide our insecurities behind bravado, sometimes irreverence, maybe even a touch of bullying.

And then comes that moment -- sometimes in the footlights, sometimes in the covers of a story, sometimes just in the quiet of our own heart -- when the wonder of God's love for us alights on our head like a beautiful bird. It comes home to us how much God loves us, awful old us, dressed up in our crookedy costumes, pretending to be someone we know we're not. That love washes over us like a flood, and in that moment we know who we are because we finally know whose we are.

And that's grace.

Thank you, Barbara Robinson, for giving us that wonderful moment in your wonderful story!


Erin said...

I *love* that book. And I have to laugh when I think of it because we've had three or four crews of kids at church that are eerily reminiscent of the Herdman's, and have had several rather nerve-wracking pageants as a result! But youu're right, as funny as it is, it's also very moving - I find that most of my favorite stories tend to be both! :)

Beth said...

Isn't it a wonderful story! I still crack up when I think of certain scenes and lines. But I'm always in tears by the end...

I suspect most churches have some version of the Herdmans. :-0!

And I totally agree -- my favorite stories combine those kinds of emotions too.