Billy Coffey
Billy Coffey

The Wandering Wise Man

December 24, 2009  

IMG_2163What you see to the right is the last remnants of the Coffey family’s most cherished Christmas tradition—the Wandering Wise Man. Dropped earlier this afternoon by two very excited hands and onto the ceramic tile of the bathroom floor. May he rest in pieces.

In order for me to fully explain the enormity of this event, I need to tell you about before. About three Christmases ago, when we were unpacking lights and ornaments and garland. And, most importantly, our manger scene.

My daughter was the self-appointed Nativity Setter-Upper, and it was a task she approached with the utmost holiness and care. Animals were positioned first, then shepherds and angels, Mary and Joseph, and then Baby Jesus. The wise men came last. Three of them usually.

But that year, there were only two.

We rooted through boxes and overturned ottomans and scoured the dark places beneath the television stand. Nothing. Which meant Daddy had to climb back into the attic with a flashlight and a prayer. Both worked. I found him upside down and backwards in a corner guarded by a hairy-looking spider. Problem solved.

But then a thought occurred to me. One about how we all seek Christ but sometimes get turned around and lost, and how it’s important to keep looking anyway. I put the wise man in my pocket, walked downstairs, and said nothing.

A while later my son happened to walk down the hallway and see the wise man in the middle of the floor along with a note—Have you seen Baby Jesus? By the time he ran back into the living room to summon the rest of the family, it had moved again. This time to my daughter’s bedroom.

“Guess he fell out of the box when we put the Nativity back in the attic last year,” I said. “Now he’s gotta find Jesus before Christmas.”

Thus the Wandering Wise Man was born.

He has miraculously emerged every year since in the weeks before Christmas, moving daily—often more than once—from room to room in search of the Savior. It is as far as I can tell the best idea I’ve ever had. The kids are so engrossed in his progress that come Christmas morning they head to the Nativity first and the tree second, just to make sure he’s reached his destination.

Earlier tonight the wise man appeared by the sink in the bathroom, where he was found by my daughter. In her excitement to spread the news, she knocked the figure to the floor. He shattered into a hundred pieces.

She did, too.

I found her on the bathroom floor cupping as many shards as she could find into her hand.

“I broke the wise man,” she sobbed. “I ruined everything!”


I gathered her off the floor and passed her to my wife, who took her to the living room for some rocking chair therapy. I snuck away long enough to swipe another wise man from the Nativity, scribble a new note, and place both at her bedside.

She found them a while later. Christmas was saved.

I checked in on her a bit ago before heading off to bed. Beside the wise man was a note written in seven-year-old scribble:

Dear 2nd wiseman thank you for showing up. I’m so sorry for hurting your friend.

I smiled. Both at the words and the little girl who wrote them. Then I took a pen from my pocket, turned the note over, and wrote a reply:

Please don’t be upset. Everyone makes mistakes. We’ll always love you, the wise men.

I’m pretty sure that note won’t mend her broken heart, but it might be enough to get the needle and thread going. Sometimes that’s all you can hope for.

Because the lessons that count the most also tend to hurt the most. Lessons like the one my daughter learned today. No matter how careful we are, we still break stuff. And not just wise men. Hearts, promises, trust, and dreams, too.

No matter how hard we try, we still make a mess sometimes. We still shatter the sacred and the special, leaving nothing but the shards of what was once whole that we’re forced to pick up through our tears.

Thankfully, the One whom the wise men seek doesn’t believe in everything being ruined. He’s in the business of putting together and making new.

And like my daughter’s wise men, He’ll always love us.

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27 Responses to “The Wandering Wise Man”

  1. Ann Kroeker says:

    Seeing as I just today broke my one and only baking stone that I use to bake EVERYTHING…

    I can relate to the breakage element in your story.

    Love your stroke of inspiration that launched the wandering wise man. Someone needs to make more durable but equally appealing nativity sets to those made of porcelain or even resin.

    Enjoy your wanderings…and thank you for this window into your family traditions.

  2. Kristin says:

    There’s a wealth of wisdom right there. I hope you save that note.
    Merry Christmas.

  3. Sarah Salter says:

    Oh, Billy, this is SO GOOD!

    For so long, I thought that because men are often so hard to please, that God was also hard-hearted, strict, stern, and hard to please. But when I started to get to know Him, I found out that He cherishes my brokeness and messiness. And when I come to Him crying, He’s a big enough, loving enough Father to pick me up out of the mess, and clean it up for me.

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  5. No matter how hard we try, we still make a mess sometimes. We still shatter the sacred and the special, leaving nothing but the shards of what was once whole that we’re forced to pick up through our tears.

    You are so wise. Thank you. I needed to hear this.

    Merry Christmas.

  6. Bridget says:

    Beautifully written, Billy. Your kids are precious and the traditions you’re establishing with them are priceless!

    Thanks for sharing… I needed this!

  7. nancy says:

    good thing there was more than one wise man.

  8. Tracey says:

    The first thing that crossed my mind was, “Why was the Wise Man in the bathroom?”

    Well, now I know. What a great story.

    Merry Christmas!

  9. Glynn says:

    I suspect that original wandering wise man is still wandering about, finding the odd place in a human heart or two to leave a note. Like his visit here. May he rest in pieces, indeed.

  10. Jill says:

    Beautifully said once again Billy!

    Praying she wakes today knowing her mess has been made clean!

    Praying you will remember to share this post with her in a few years when the mess she makes will be much bigger than a porcelain figure. Oh to know we are loved despite our messes! Such peace,comfort and joy!

    Merry Christmas wise friend!

  11. Billie, this is a beautiful real life story. Isn’t it wonderful that we can find lessons in everyday life. He can salvage our hearts and our souls. I also believe that if we look close enough, we will find miracles, as well.

    Merry christmas to you and your family!

  12. Joanne Sher says:

    So powerful, Billy. With incredi.ble truths in every paragraph – if not every sentence. Amazing

  13. kimbuktu says:

    So very sweet! Happy Christmas to you and your family.

  14. What a beautiful story, Billy…and what a good daddy you are, as well.

    Merry Christmas!

  15. Amy N. says:

    That is such a wonderful tradition with such great meaning. Thanks for sharing.

  16. HisFireFly says:

    “Thankfully, the One whom the wise men seek doesn’t believe in everything being ruined. He’s in the business of putting together and making new.”

    What a comforting and glorious truth!

    You’ve hit yet another home run Billy, thank you.

    May His peace and joy fill your heart and home, today and always.

  17. Chris says:

    A simple word from me – AMEN!

    I love the things you learn and decide to pass on to us. I sometimes wonder what things you are learning that don’t even get shared!?!

    Merry Christmas, Billy!

  18. Lorianne says:

    Merry Christmas!! That was perfect!

  19. Maureen says:

    Great story! Thank you.

    Merry Christmas.

  20. And to think this Wandering Wiseman was birthed, right there in your pocket!

    Such a beautiful story shared. Such a wonderful tradition upheld. Such a great gift given.

    Thank you over and again!

  21. L.T. Elliot says:

    This is a beautiful tradition–both fun and poignant.

    Thank you for another beautiful gift. I treasure them all.

  22. Very nice, Billy. Merry Christmas.

  23. Terri says:

    Yours are lucky little children….they have a wonderful mother and a “super” dad. Merry Christmas Billy….let’s hope for a Charlie Brown sky!


  24. Caroline says:

    Utterly lovely! Merry Christmas!

  25. There’s now 4 wisemen … with an idea as great as a wandering wiseman with notes for your kids, you are added to their ranks!

    Merry Christmas to you and your family. May your day be filled with peace.

  26. Karin says:

    Love it! I’ll be sharing this story with the seniors at the nursing home! That was a fantastic idea you had!! Because the original, however many, wise men didn’t arrive to see Jesus until much later, when He lived in a house, I’ve always placed our wise men much further away – to tell the story that they traveled far and long to seek a Savior. Such wisdom in your story and a blessing to me! What’s that saying “Wise men still seek Him.”

  27. Rebecca says:

    Your daughter is so precious…I have a feeling mine would have done the same, down to the note. What a wonderful tradition you started…and managed to keep going in the face of ceramic adversity. :) I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, Billy.

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