Friday, December 26, 2008

Just Another Day?

Back when I still believed in church, Christmas was a transporting season for me. The deepening darkness of Advent as Mary and Joseph made their way to Bethlehem, the Silent Night lit by candles in children's sleepy hands, the tears of gratitude, the Epiphany of the Magi -- the journey of the Nativity me deeply as I joined fellow Christians in celebrating the traditions our people.

I still believe in Christmas, but the church became more of an obstacle between my Savior and me. The sentimental nostalgia of Christmas became an idol that turned my eyes from the grace of incarnation. Much to my surprise, I left Christianity to find Christ. I'm glad to say he hasn't been hard to find.

It has been a very difficult season since my last post back in September. Losing my job put our family in dire financial straits. There have been fearful nights spent wondering which bills would be paid and which creditors will have to wait. Stress over money is the great destroyer of marriages, maybe even greater than adultery, and Mrs P and I have felt the strain in our selves and in our relationship.

We lost our beloved Molly the week before Christmas. Our sweet faced Golden Retriever had reached the point that her tired legs would no longer lift her. I held her face in my hands when her trusting eyes closed for the last time, and we wept together as the doctor gave her the merciful injection and she quietly drew her last breath.

Before we knew our little old Lady would not see another Christmas, we added a new member to our family. A retriever puppy named Jake has joined our menagerie. He terrorizes our cats, torments our shoes, and has not let us sleep through a night since his arrival. He is a complete pain in the neck, but an hour doesn't pass in our house but he gives us at least one reason to laugh. Mom says God must have known how much our home would need some extra joy this Winter and I am sure she is right.

Working for the Duck is hard - much more than I expected. When they said it would be difficult, I thought that meant I would have to work hard, and I welcomed that challenge. What I didn't really expect was that even after working very hard, I might still not see much money for a long time. So far, I have mostly had to be satisfied with intangible rewards. There are plenty of them, but they don't impress the bill collector much. Our families have been very generous with their help, but I hate being a 48-year old man who still needs to ask for money from the grown-ups in my life.

And my running -- I ran a 5K this fall, set a new PR, but haven't done any exercising since. My mind and body are both less healthy because of this, and I am resolved to return to the gym where I found such strength in 2008. After three months as a salesman I can say for certain that I'm going to need all the strength and courage I can get.

So yesterday was not the most festive Yule we've had in the Pennsy house. Mrs P and I had agreed not to exchange gifts, but we had some packages from loved ones to open. A neighbor had left a basket of baked treats on the porch. But the holiday cheer was short-lived. The clear blue sky and warm sunny day seemed to mock my longing for a White Christmas as the puppy and I walked through the neighborhood that was still muddy from Christmas Eve's hard rain.

I thought to myself, "This isn't Christmas. This is just another day."

We came home to a house whose usual disorder has been made even crazier by Jake's energy and our own lethargy. Mrs P and I decided that rather than spend the day grieving, we would give one another a day of housekeeping. Our modest goal was to bring order to our bedroom.

We sorted laundry, shelved books, swept corners, moved furniture, and sorted through piles of un-boxed jewelry and unmatched socks. Shoes were stored above the puppy gnawing zone and clothes were taken to the washing machine. When we were finished, we had fresh bedclothes, a visible floor, and at least a few more square feet of clear space on top of the amoire.

Jake and I went outside for the last pee of the night and I contemplated Sirius, the brightest star in the east being pursued by the three wise men of Orion's belt. I took a bath and slept between clean sheets with my beautiful wife and our oh-so-patient cats as the puppy at last settled down for a long winter's nap in his crate.

I reached out to touch Mrs P in the dark as she slept, and I knew that this Christmas was not just another day. God has blessed me with love everywhere I turn. My family, my neighbors, my new colleagues at work - I am the least deserving creature on earth, yet I am the richest man I know.

Just another day? Nah. Take away the ham and the wrapping paper and the tree and the snow and it is still Christmas. The Grinch has taken all he could take, but somehow or other it came just the same.

There are plenty of babes in mangers in this world. Sometimes we all feel like travelers without a place to rest, banished to the stable while the world celebrates in the warm light of an inn where we have no place. Troubled days have passed and others will come, but on Christmas, even if it's only for an instant, the still small voice will remind us if we listen that we are richly blessed beyond anything we can ask or imagine. 
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.

Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD's hand double for all her sins.

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:
And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. (Isaiah 40:1-5)
Merry Christmas, Y'all.


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