Early last Christmas morning I awoke with an uneasy feeling in my stomach. It didn’t take long to realize that my queasiness was more than just a manifestation of holiday anxiety. Exiting the bathroom, I nearly ran into Sam, who was waiting for me to come out. No words were exchanged, but I had a hunch that I was not alone in my misery. I heard our son Lukas come out of the downstairs bathroom and from the bottom of the stairs utter the words no mother wants to hear on Christmas morning, “Mom, do you have any Kaopectate?”
My nauseous mind quickly shifted into survival mode. Three people ill, two bathrooms, two more still asleep, oblivious to the dire circumstances that awaited them. I didn’t like the odds. I went to the closet and slipped a coat over my pajamas. Sam was back in bed. “I’m going to my office,” I mumbled to the huddled form under the covers. A groan and a long sigh confirmed that he had heard me.
I managed the short drive to Huntley and passed the next hours between a blur of fitful sleep on a lumpy couch and trips to the bathroom. But at least there was no waiting in line—an option that was unthinkable.
Sometime in the afternoon, Sam called and announced that the coast was clear and whenever I was able, I could come home. Arriving back home, I sat on the couch sipping ginger ale and gazed at the pile of unopened gifts under the tree. All of the shopping, planning, and anticipation leading up to this single day seemed to be acts of futility. I consoled myself at the thought that we at least been able to attend Christmas Eve candlelight services. Thoughts of the prime rib dinner I had prepared were less than pleasant.
My disappointment was temporary. Within a few days, we were all recovered and had a perfectly wonderful Christmas “do-over.” We gathered and delighted in each other’s company—especially Olivia, who had by this time become an experienced gift-opener.
This experience was yet another lesson in the danger of assuming that I had everything under control. It reminded me of another Christmas when I was faced with another type of challenge.
It was somewhere in the early to mid 1980s. We awoke on Christmas Eve morning to heavily overcast skies, frigid temperatures, and radio announcements of deteriorating weather conditions throughout the day. By mid-morning silver dollar-sized snowflakes began falling.
The kids went outside to play in the snow and I used the few moments of solitude to take an inventory of the gifts. Thinking back, I realize how much easier shopping was when the kids were small. It was Barbies for Addie and GI Joes and Legos for Lukas and Zac. The challenge was to hide the gifts in our small home. I thought I had done well until a few years ago when my grown children collectively confessed to a lifelong history of snooping and gift tampering.
Around noon, Sam returned home from work. He was immediately sequestered in our locked bedroom with a dozen rolls of wrapping paper, my sharpest dull scissors, and a large pile of gifts. One problem: there was only a partial roll of scotch tape so it was up to him to stretch it as far as possible. When that was gone, all we had was duct tape—which was just fine with him.
The wind came up and the snowfall intensity increased steadily over the next few hours. I baked a batch of cut out cookies and the kids frosted and decorated them. Their happy chatter centered on their great fortune that all of the snow would make it so much easier for Santa. Sam and I exchanged worried looks—concerned more about the possibility of a power outage in our totally electric home.
Christmas carols playing on the radio were interrupted frequently by a growing list of cancellation announcements. When I heard that our Christmas Eve service had been cancelled, I felt a mixture of relief and sadness. Every memory I have of Christmas centers on attending a traditional candlelight service. However, as a church musician, there is also an element of added stress and responsibility associated with the holiday. With that burden lifted, I sensed an opportunity to create a completely new experience for our family.
Living so close to both sets of parents, we were accustomed to spending Christmas Eve with my parents and Christmas Day with Sam’s family. Great food and a large assortment of goodies were laid out for us. All we had to do was show up. I looked around my house and all I saw were faces looking expectantly at me.
A trip to the grocery store was obviously out of the question. Fortunately, I had meat in the freezer and a large quantity of homegrown vegetables so I prepared one of our favorite meals of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and corn. I set the table with the good dishes and served our plain meal by candlelight. We had chocolate pudding and cookies for dessert.
After dinner, we gathered in the living room and I read Luke’s account of the birth of our Savior. We sang Away in A Manger and Sam said a simple prayer. I would have prolonged this quiet sacred time but my desire was over-ruled by, “Can we open our presents now?”
Perhaps no one in my family remembers this particular Christmas in the same way that I do. But for a few hours that sweet silent night, cut off from the outside world and nestled in our warm house in the woods, Christmas came quietly and profoundly in my heart. As the snow fell and the wind raged, I felt perfectly at peace.