Being a family of faith, we try to find most of the stories we tell and lessons we teach to our children this time of year from the Bible where the Christmas story is found. But we do own and enjoy a copy of the Limited Keepsake Edition of the Original Christmas Classics, including Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
And this is where my story begins…
On our first trip to China in 2013, we spent nearly two weeks at the Garden Hotel in Guangzhou, as our son is from a city in Guangdong. The medical appointment took place on a quiet week day (before all of the other families arrived from the various provinces) instead of an insane Saturday (which we will get to). We and the other family traveling with us may have been the only ones there.
But the lobby of the Garden Hotel where we were staying was a perpetual hive of activity filled with new families bustling about. At one point my husband commented that the lobby of the Garden Hotel reminded him of the Island of Misfit Toys in Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. I had actually been thinking the very same thing.
Fast forward nearly five years and we find ourselves at the medical which took place after arrival in Guangzhou from the various provinces on an insane Saturday. The entire crowd from the Garden Hotel lobby was gathered as all of the families that had arrived from the provinces hustled through the medical stations.
At one point I looked up and the other mom we were traveling with, overcome with emotion, said, “This is the Island of Misfit toys from Rudolph.” And at that moment I knew this wasn’t just some crazy connection my husband and I had conjured up.
In the movie, the welcome on the Island meant you were also a misfit.
Metaphorically, if you were welcomed you were joining a group who was disabled or incapacitated in some way. On the island there was a Charlie in the Box, a spotted elephant, a train with square wheels on the caboose, a water pistol that squirts jelly, a bird that swims, and a cowboy who rides an ostrich. And then there is the “Dolly for Sue” – who seems perfectly normal -but the producer of the movie, Arthur Rankin, revealed in an NPR interview in 2007 that Dolly considers herself a misfit due to her low self-esteem and psychological problems. She is a doll who feels that she is unlovable; I would say that she suffers from a broken heart.
In the lobby of the Garden or at the medical on an insane Saturday the “misfits” are not toys but children. Children.
Children, not seeking refuge or community on an island, but children, many with broken pieces and all like Dolly, broken hearted, finding family. Family, in the arms of loving mamas and babas who had flown not on a sleigh but on a 747 from places that seem as far away as the North Pole.
Rudolph and Hermey, misfits themselves, end up on this island. As a mom to two boys with limb differences, I would say that Rudolph was born with a “nose difference”. Hermey is an elf who can’t make toys but aspires to be a dentist and this difference makes him feel rejected by the community he is born into.
Rudolph also feels different and rejected. As the song goes, “All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names, they never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games. But then one foggy Christmas Eve Santa came to say…” In a moment everything changes for Rudolph. And in a moment, in a civil affairs office, everything changes for a child.
The title “orphan” is replaced with the title “beloved son or daughter”. Names are changed. Families are born. The process of healing broken hearts begins.
And about those special needs. In the story of Rudolph his “special need” – his nose difference – actually turns out to be more of a special power. A nose so bright that it can guide Santa’s sleigh around the world in a night through fog as thick as pea soup sounds like a special power to me.
This makes me wonder, could the special needs our children have been labeled with on medical forms really be special powers in disguise? When my son with a lucky fin (limb difference) brings the ball up the court, he lights up the gym. When my son with two lucky fins zipped his coat for the first time, the entire kindergarten classroom lit up and erupted in cheers.
What about your kids? Have their lives grown compassion in others? Have their lives given others joy? Have they grown patience in you? That sounds to me like something even more than a special power…
that is the miraculous.
So when you snuggle in with your little treasures to watch Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer this year likely your child won’t make these connections, but I hope you will. I hope you smile when Rudolph takes flight. As the song goes, “Then how the reindeer loved him”…. love really is what changes everything.
I hope that you are seeing glimpses of the miraculous in how broken hearts are healing in your homes. I hope that in the midst of the challenges you have moments when special needs can be seen as special powers that may not “go down in history” as the song goes but become a part of your family’s… your children’s stories.
– guest post by Tanya Strong, wife to Luman, mom to Selah 15, Boaz 13, Simeon 9, Shadrach 7, Meshach 6 & Abednego with special powers yet unknown