The Herdman kids in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever were “…absolutely the worst kids in the world. They lied and stole and smoked cigars (even the girls).” They were six dirty banged up kids who all looked alike except for being “different sizes.”
After the third time Leroy Herdman stole Charlie’s dessert from his lunch box, Charlie announced, “Go ahead and take it, I get all the desserts I want at Sunday School.” And so began the invaision of the Herdmans at the Second Presbyterian Church. Needless to say, it wasn’t the Herdman’s who changed the most that Christmas. Their simple response to the gospel affected the whole church.
Several years ago, I slipped a copy of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, into Aunt Jeanne Marie’s bag just before she boarded a flight home to San Francisco. “You’ll get a kick out of this short book. These kids will remind you of my brothers and sisters and me.”
Having lived with us for a year after our father died, Aunt Jeanne Marie got the brunt of our bad behavior.
A couple weeks later I received a Christmas card from Aunt Jeanne Marie. On the cover was a beautifully lit Christmas tree with six lovely children lined up from the tallest to the smallest. With the youngest dragging a teddy bear by its arm.
It was a warm picture full of the best stuff of Christmas. I opened the card knowing a note was inside.
“Oh no Ellen, it began. “You were not Herdman’s, I remember you and your brothers and sisters as being just like the children on the front of this card.”
I laughed out loud thinking, “No, Aunt Jeanne Marie, we were just like the Herdman’s.”
The reality of my life is, I was a Herdman. Impulsive, passionate and destructive. But my aunt refused to see me that way. She chose to love me unconditionally in spite of who I was. She made a conscious decision to see the good in me. She heard the words I said, and I’m sure she saw me whack my sisters. But she chose to discipline me with love.
When I referred to us as a Herdman’s she “corrected” me with a picture of six lovely children.
I am a different person today because of her love. And that love has been passed on to my children and grand children. And that love will continue to echo down through the generations to come.