What kind of Christmas will you have this year?
|There is no such thing as... a Christmas without hope|
George knew that Christmas was going to be difficult this year! He had been out of work for over eight months and the unemployment benefits he received were barely enough to pay the mortgage and other debts to keep his family from becoming homeless. What few savings they had managed to put aside when he was working were long gone.
He and his wife Jill had finally gotten the courage to swallow their pride and make a trip to the local church for a withdrawal from the food pantry. It was a very humbling experience. Before, they had generously donated to the church and to keeping the pantry filled for the needy, now they were the needy ones. They were more than needy they were desperate. Without help from the church, this poor Christmas dinner would never have been possible.
He had heard all the stories. His family was not the only ones who had fallen on hard times. The entire country was in a shambles. Many had lost their livelihood, jobs were scarce, debtors were striking like hungry wolves and hope was running out for many.
George was also running out of hope. He had held a job since he was seventeen, including a tour of duty in the military, and over the past eighteen years he had never been late for work or called in sick. He had worked his way up to middle management in his company and was certain that his position was secure. When the devastating blow came eight months ago, he had been socked. “Downsizing,” was the bitter word used by his boss and close friend. The economy was falling, production orders were dropping, company debt was redlining and unfortunate adjustments had to be made.
He had never had a Christmas without gifts! He had always had the means to give generously to his family and friends and church and coworkers. The thought of not giving was too difficult to grasp. It was almost un-American!
Last night, Christmas Eve, he had sat in his home office in his favorite chair with the lights out. He knew he was feeling sorry for himself. He almost, but not quite, reached for the bottle of brandy he kept above his fireplace for special occasions. But, he knew that if he opened that bottle he would drown his sorrows and slide deeper into the bitter depression that had engulfed him.
That morning they had awoke to a Christmas like no other he had ever experienced. There were no toys for little James, no new clothes for Betty, and no video games for Johnny. There was no gift of pearls or jewelry for his wife Jill or warm slippers or silly ties for himself. He did notice that someone, most likely little James, had left milk and stale cookies out for Santa Claus.
Christmas morning without gifts was shocking and frightening! George was lost in a fog of disbelief, shame, fear, and deep depression. With tears in his eyes he ran into his study and closed the door to prevent the children from witnessing his distress.
He was sobbing about how big a failure he was when is wife entered and gently cradled him in her arms. The hardest part was he had no one to blame not even himself. He, just like many of his friends and neighbors, was the victim of a system gone bad. This was something they had never had to cope with before, an invisible enemy that had silently slid in and destroyed the happiness and security he knew.
“I am a failure,” he choked out between sobs. “A useless, disgusting failure. I don’t deserve you or the kids. I don’t deserve to even be alive. I’m a nothing, a nobody, useless!” He started to reach for the bottle of brandy but one look from Jill changed his mind. “You know better,” she stated, “And I’m not referring to the brandy.” She left him with those words to think about.
That evening at the Christmas dinner table, he was surprised to see all the company that had dropped in. There was his best friend from the old job and his wife; their neighbors on both sides, his brother Robert home on leave from the military, and many others.
No, there wasn’t a huge turkey or two on the table. No giant hams or roast duck or leg of lamb. He could tell that his wife and her friends had made do with what each had brought or gotten from the food pantry or hidden for this special dinner.
After they had all held hands and given thanks in prayer for the blessings of health and friendship they enjoyed, George sat back in his chair and was surprised at all the smiling and happy faces looking at him.
“How can they possibly be so happy and cheerful in these desperate times?” he asked himself.
Little James was the first to speak. “We have no presents this year daddy and it’s all your fault,’ he blurted out. George felt shame and sadness overwhelm him.
“It’s all your fault because you gave all the presents away,’ James continued, getting up from his chair and walking over to his daddy. He threw a piece of paper on his dad’s plate with one single word written on it, then returned to his seat.George looked at the paper and read the word…love!
“You gave me too much love daddy. It is a wonderful gift but you gave me too much,” James said, a little tear coming down his cheek. “My gift to you is to give back a little bit of that love. Not all of it, cause I know you wanted me to have it, but enough so you will have a present for Christmas.”
George was shocked and speechless! Before he could reply to this beautiful gesture from his youngest son, his daughter stood and dropped another piece of paper onto his plate. On it was written the single word…forgiveness.
“You always forgave me for all the dumb things I did dad,” Betty said. “You taught me that forgiveness was a gift from the heart. From you I learned how to forgive others. This Christmas I am returning some of that forgiveness. I forgive you for being the best dad a person could ever have.”
His son Johnny got up next and dropped another piece of paper onto his plate. On it was written the word…patience. “I use to demand things all the time,” Johnny stated. “I always wanted it right then, right there. I could never wait for anything and I was often mean in my wants and nasty in dealing with others. You taught me patience dad. It is a great gift and I want to give some of it back to you for Christmas. Things will get better, you always said, have a little patience. Things will get better dad!”
By this time the tears in George’s eyes were flowing freely down his cheeks and dropping onto the pieces of paper stacking up on his dinner plate. His friend Hank gave him back some of the sharing that George passed out so generously, his friend Martha returned some joy, Grace gave back a heaping helping of faith and Ted returned some of the excess charity George had given him.
His brother Robert walked over and dropped a piece of paper with two words written on it…duty and honor. “You taught me that it was my duty to serve our country and an honor to be part of this great family,” Robert stated. “Duty and honor is two virtues that you possess in abundance George, but I’m giving a little back as a Christmas gift because I have so much to be proud of.”
Jill was the last to stand up and walk over to where George was seated. She did not have a piece of paper in her hand. She simply bent down and kissed him gently on the lips.
“I can give the gift of hope or prayer or a host of other gifts that you have so abundantly given out over the years George,” she said. “In the past we have always given material gifts and we have reveled in the joy of others as they opened those gifts. The gifts we give today are ones we borrowed from you. Without those gifts our lives would never have been the same. Without your generosity, caring, sincerity, and deep love we would have no gifts worthwhile to share. God has provided each of us with a wonderful gift that we all can share. That gift is you George!”