This is our third Christmas without my mom.

We’re having Christmas Eve at our house this year, and my sister is coming over. The other day she handed me my mom’s Christmas tablecloth, the white one with the embroidered trees on it. All folded up neat and compact like an American flag being passed on with great reverence to the family of a deceased soldier.

She asked me to use it on Christmas Eve.

“Of course,” I said and swallowed hard, and my kids asked, “Why?”

“Tradition,” she replied.

And with just a word she gathered a lifetime of memories and transferred them into my arms.

I ironed the tablecloth today. Steamed and pressed it right on the squeaky ironing board that used to be my mom’s. The one with the blue cover with green polka dots. And I wonder if there’s a lot of blue and green in heaven, because those were her favorite colors.

tableclothAs the hot metal slid over the white cloth, I saw the stories, forever stained right there into the fabric. The purple wax stains from the advent candles, the ones we lit every Sunday in December. And a pink candle stain, for that third week, the week of joy. I always thought it was strange that three candles were purple and only one was pink, and I find myself wondering still, even as I iron.

Normally when I see stains on clothes that have found their way to the ironing board, I avoid them at all costs, careful not to let the heat sear the stain into the fabric and deem it irremovable.

But not this time.

This time I find myself purposely pressing harder where the yellowed oil stains color the white, and I smile as I think about the sputtering oil in the fondue pots that got too hot and popped right over the edge. And year after year we lit cans of Sterno and argued over which color fondue sticks we got to have, and then forgot which sticks were ours.

I iron over the purple wax spots and wonder where that wreath is now, and think about how today we’d be so close to lighting that center white candle.

But we’re still waiting.

But my mom, she’s right there in the middle of it all, right in the center of the circle, where the pure white candle is always lit.

She doesn’t have to wait anymore.

A tear slips off my cheek and lands on the tablecloth, and I just iron over it, adding a salty stain to the story.

And I think about what it must be like to be in a place where there are no stains, no blemishes, no wrinkles to be ironed out.

This Christmas Eve, we’ll add to the stains and the story of the tablecloth, and we’ll light the candles, and we’ll wait.

We’ll wait for the newborn King to come again and carry us home, “without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish.”

Come Lord Jesus, come.