Last Christmas Eve, I packed-up pancake mix, tossed the essentials for enchiladas in a cooler, and our family headed to Tennessee.
No sparkle or shimmer. No stockings or gifts. No Christmas Eve service or twinkling lights.
A family member was seriously ill, and we were headed to the hospital. We arrived late and missed visiting hours, but family friends offered to let us stay in their empty cabin for the night. Our family of four spent the evening alone at the cabin listening to the one station that would come in on an old radio. We ate bare enchiladas by a bonfire, and my husband read of Jesus’ birth. It was Christmas stripped down to a baby King born to an undeserving people.
We thought our kids would be disappointed. Someone they love very much was very sick. Santa didn’t come and pancakes without butter or syrup don’t exactly scream Christmas breakfast.
But there wasn’t a whisper of wishing things were different.
The next day was spent sitting, talking, waiting, and listening to the TV at the hospital drone on.
As afternoon approached, we realized the cafeteria at the hospital was closed, and lunch would be whatever came from a vending machine. We gathered up quarters and set-out to find Doritos when a woman stopped us and said a local church was serving lunch in the cafeteria.
Here’s the deal friends, I am decent at giving. I am not so decent at receiving. I’m not used to it. I don’t find myself in need much. In fact, I work very hard to make certain I don’t need things. If you do for me, I need to do for you or those awful scales I use to measure life will fall apart. Having strangers, people I don’t know and people I will never see again, do for me makes me uncomfortable.
But when I turned the corner at that hospital and saw rows of tables covered in festive tablecloths, elderly women in Santa hats, and smiling kids passing out dessert, I broke.
We need each other.
We need honey ham and creamed corn.
We need sugar cookies served to us by strangers.
We need to crush those dreadful scales we use to measure out deeds in life.
We need to experience receiving gifts we can never pay back so we can fully understand the mind-blowing gift called Jesus.
It was because of these needs that I let a small, frail woman quietly boss me to sit down and then slowly shuffle to my table with food.
Do you know what was happening while our family was feasting on food prepared by people we didn’t know? Our neighbors were sneaking into our house. They were arranging our gifts under our tree. They were filling stockings. They were loving us in a way we could never pay back.
Christmas is about undeserving people receiving something we could never attain on our own. It’s taken me most of my life to figure this out, and this year it’s left me searching.
Yes, searching for people I can bless with prayer, forgiveness, honey ham, and creamed corn, but also being open to ways I can receive, ways I can resist the urge to do it myself, ways I can allow people to do for me without any intention of ever paying them back.
Merry, merry Christmas, friends. I am beyond thankful for you.