Want to know what I got for Christmas?
Oh, I got a lot of good things for Christmas– four huge gifts I didn’t expect. It started when the secular world’s idea of a Christmas began, with my friend I’d never met in person showing up and taking the family to Pittsburgh on Black Friday for a trip to the zoo, and then to Trader Joe’s and out to dinner. I felt like Christmas had already happened for me, as far as I was concerned.
That was the first gift. Thank you to my friend.
Then we had an Advent of miracles, which I’ve already told you about.
Advent and Christmas have always been a bit of a sad time for me, at least in all my adult life. When I first separated myself from my immediate family, it was a time that was exceptionally lonely. Everyone had families to pray and celebrate with and I was alone. After I met Michael, I found that his lovely family doesn’t bother very much with Christmas except for the liturgical aspects; they never had the money for many presents and didn’t even decorate– and besides, they live far away in Missouri. Then we had Rosie, and we had the general nervousness of making Christmas happy for a child when there was very little money and no family nearby. Sometimes we didn’t even have a ride to Christmas Mass and ended up walking. Sometimes we had a tiny stick Christmas tree in our terrible apartment on the worst street in LaBelle. A few times, The Friendship Room had to bring Rose her Christmas presents because we didn’t have the money.
I always felt depressed after Christmas, as if Christmas hadn’t happened yet and all that excitement was for nothing. Oh, Jesus was born and I went to Mass and that was most important, but there was no fun and no feeling of having honored Him by making the world brighter. I love tacky decorations and I love getting presents, but one of my major sources of sadness was not being able to do nice things for people. I always wanted to live out that iconic but apocryphal scene from films of A Christmas Carol that doesn’t actually happen in the books: the scene where Scrooge shows up at the Cratchits’ house and showers them with toys and treats. I wanted to be a Reformed Scrooge for somebody. I wanted to shower somebody with surprise treats, and I didn’t have the money to do it myself.
This year was different. All through Advent, I kept on noticing people who really needed help and then working with my readers to help them– a little of my own money and me doing the leg work but you guys providing the majority of the financial help, and I am more grateful than I can ever say. Guests at the Friendship Room and at the indigents’ nursing home and my friend the escaped battered wife had great Christmases because God inspired you and me to work together.
That was the second gift, and it was the best. Thank you for that.
The third gift was from Michael, who came upstairs one night after a late trip to Wal Mart and asked, “Do you want one small present for Christmas? Or do you want one small present PLUS a present with minor cosmetic damage?” and I said I’d like two presents.
“Good,” he said. “Then I won’t put this right in the kitchen things. I’ll wrap it. It was on clearance because it has a dent.”
On Christmas morning, Rosie opened a pile of presents most of which we paid for ourselves; some that friends sent, but we didn’t have to rely on the charity of the Friendship Room this year. And I opened two presents: an ornament shaped like a glass elephant, and a broiler pan with a dent. We needed a new broiler pan. When you’re a grown-up, a broiler pan is exciting. When you’ve been very poor for a long time and are now only moderately poor, a new broiler pan is great fun.
That was the third gift, and I thank Michael.And then the fourth gift. This was a gift I’d secretly prayed to Saint Nicholas for on his feast day, because he always takes care of me, but it felt like a pipe dream. You see, years ago when I wrote that blog post, we got a used dryer– it had been sitting in someone’s barn for a long time, in fact. We were grateful for it. It served us for about a year before it broke and we couldn’t fix it. And then the belt of the washing machine broke so it would fill but not agitate, and we had to go back to washing clothes in the sink or in the washing machine itself but wringing and agitating them by hand because the machinery wouldn’t. The trick of being much less poor than you were and almost not poor at all anymore, is that expenses you’ve put off build up. We’re thrilled to not be food insecure at the end of the month and to be able to put Rosie in lessons she loves after school. But big expenses are still out of reach. Our fridge needs replacing soon and the range keeps breaking, and we certainly couldn’t afford a new washer and dryer either. We made do for a year; we stretched things out on drying racks and turned the fan and space heater on them to dry faster. A few times this year we splurged and carried the laundry to the laundromat, but that’s expensive and it’s hard to walk there when it’s cold out. I prayed to Saint Nicholas to somehow replace our appliances.
A few days after Christmas, I got a message from one of my friends. She said that she’d started a gofundme behind my back and passed it around among my blog readers. And you all raised enough that two workmen from Lowe’s just showed up at my house and installed a brand new washing machine and dryer– with professional installation this time, so the hose isn’t leaking all over my laundry room like the old one did.
That was the third gift, and I thank you.
I have named the new washer and dryer Crockett and Tubbs, the same name I gave the old washer and dryer.
I keep peeking at them because I can’t believe they’re real. I’m afraid to turn them on for fear they’ll melt into mist. But the wonderful thing about things that are real, is that you don’t have to believe. They go on existing anyway, whether you do or not. Every time I look in the laundry room, there they are. I even snapped a photo. I walked into the laundry room with my laptop because it was the only camera I had, and I still can’t believe it.
I guess this is as apt a metaphor for Christmas as any I’ve ever lived. You don’t have to have a merry Christmas feeling for it to be Christmas. Christmas can be disappointing and it still exists– Christ is still born and dwells among us. His grace still permeates all of our experience, no matter how banal or how sad. He still redeems everything whether we feel like we’re cooperating with His work or not. When we do notice His prompting– when we see an opportunity to do good, and actually forget our helplessness and do our Father’s will– we see miracles manifest all around and it feels like a holiday. But whether or not we can see miracles, they’re here.
They are as real and far more real than a washing machine and a dryer that are sitting in my laundry room, professionally installed and ready to go.
I’m going to go do a load of towels now, but I wanted to show Crockett and Tubbs off first. I wanted to show off my whole Christmas now that the twelve days and Epiphany are accomplished. For once I’ve got no regrets about taking the tree down and going on with the rest of the year. I’m not depressed at all.
And I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for that.
Merry Christmas and a happy new year, from our family to yours. God bless us, every one.
(first image via Pixabay, image of Crockett and Tubbs taken by the author)
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