This year, Olivia is thrilled to have an English class tailor-made for her alone, thanks to Beckie – a British college student who is spending a year at our school to complete her French degree. In December, they read "A Christmas Carol" together while the rest of her class struggled to master the present continuous tense – Ha! I confess that I approached Christmas with a Scrooge-like attitude this year, based on past experience:
You may recall that last year we were sick and broke the week before Christmas. The year before I moaned about my husband’s inability to fill my stocking. Earlier years in Europe went unrecorded in my newsletters, but in general, they were a real adjustment for my kids, living in quarters too cramped for a nice tree, missing Rocky Mountain snow, and getting cabin fever with everything closed and no family to visit, which every other French person is obligated to do at this time of year. Going back even further, our pre-missionary holidays in Denver were still very hard on me since Christmas was couched between Noah, born on his aunt’s birthday in early Dec. and Olivia, born on my mother’s birthday in early January 2 years later.
So this year, the Ghost of Christmas Past took up residence in my soul and convinced me that this was another year to dread: Rachel would be at a rare gathering of my whole family at Christmas in the SW and I would not. Almost 14, Olivia was mourning the end of "Christmas Magic." I imagined Noah would come home bearing only dirty laundry and an attitude. I was sure we couldn’t escape some version of the flu due to miserable weather of the rainy kind, and was extremely skeptical about the timing of Christmas money with the supporting church transition. So I announced to everyone in October that it was high time that the family started thinking about how to meet Mom’s needs for once, and threatened to leave the country if necessary (at least an hour into Germany for a day at the thermal baths!)
Then on Dec.12th I walked into a Salvation Army store and saw the Christmas gift of my dreams – a comfortable leather sofa for $200. (Our furniture was shipped with us from Denver and is starting to show its age.) When David said we couldn’t afford it, the Ghost of CP said, "I told you so," and I came home instead with Christmas shirts for him and a funky coat for me. When I relayed the story to my parents that evening, they had the money waiting in our Paypal account the next day with a message saying, "Enjoy your couch!" And suddenly, I didn’t need to go to Germany anymore.
The next day I got to "pay it forward" by playing taxi for 2 friends. One is a very pregnant mother of 3 who lives up 4 flights of stairs with no elevator, whose husband is working Mon.-Sat. and whose car died during the coldest week of the year. She is pretty trapped because her youngest needs to be carried down the stairs and her hips are so loose that it would be easy to fall in the process. She called when her cupboards were bare to see if I could take her and the 2 youngest to the grocery store. Fortunately I was feeling energetic that day: up 4 flights of stairs, mittens and hats and coats, down 4 flights of stairs, install car seats, load carts with 2 weeks of food, load sacks into the car, entertain the kids in the car while she makes a 2nd stop, unload groceries and boys, 4 flights of stairs x 4, help put it all in the cupboards, down 4 flights of stairs, remove car seats, head home. Two weeks later she needed to do it again. This time, I paid Olivia and her friend to babysit the 3 kids while we did it, and fortunately her husband was at home when we returned to carry it all up for us!
Back at the Salvation Army the next day,I was told that my dream had already been sold the week before, (but hadn’t been marked,) and the GCP started snickering again. However, there were at least 20 other couches in the store and several were leather, so I tried them all. I loved a butter cream leather recliner the most, but it wasn’t marked either, and I was afraid to ask about it for fear of disappointment. But first I settled on my second sofa choice and the manager came down $20 since it was in slightly worse condition than my first choice. That gave me the courage to ask the price of the recliner. "$20." As my jaw dropped, I kicked the ghost in the head and headed to the cashier. They would deliver them 4 days before Christmas and take our old one with them.
The same week, I was doing my Christmas week grocery shopping and suddenly heard live accordion music while putting a bag of frozen frog legs in my cart. Looking around, I spotted a man wearing a Santa hat playing by the entrance. It was an epiphanal moment that broke through the daily grind. I suddenly realized that I’m living my dream – celebrating Christmas in France. I got a little emotional and couldn’t wait to thank the man on my exit. Alas, by the time I got there, he was gone. Live music in grocery stores is pretty rare – I think he was Gabriel in disguise giving the GCP one more kick.
A few days later, we picked up Noah, who thoughtfully brought back a library book for Olivia’s pleasure, and did not pack an attitude! And magical weather of the snowy kind kicked in for the first weekend of Christmas break packed with festive events, completely unhampered by the flu.
When the delivery men showed up on Monday, I’m sure they had never seen an American get so excited about used furniture. And when Olivia caught a news blurb that a Salvation Army Major was shot in front of his adopted children on Christmas eve, we were both adamant about writing a letter to his family and contributing to the memorial fund – what a sobering example of the body of Christ giving their very lives to provide for others…
While it’s true that our Dec. deposits were delayed until after New Year’s, our den became a PC emergency room that month, (with Noah working the night shift,) providing a steady stream of euros. More angelic activity was evident when all our Christmas packages and last-minute Internet orders arrived by Christmas eve!
I end with a new rendition of Psalm 23, which lends itself nicely to a eulogy for burial of the Ghost of Christmas Past:
The Lord was my Christmas Shepherd, and I did not want.
He made me lie down on leather furniture. He led me beside downtrodden mothers.
He restored our souls. He led me in the path of gratefulness for His name’s sake.
Yea, though we walked through the cold, snowy streets of Guebwiller,
We caught no flu for You were with us. Secondhand coats, they comforted us.
You prepared a Christmas table before us in the presence of many froggies.
You anointed our heads with patience, and now our provision runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy has followed us all these 10 years in Europe,
but we can’t wait to dwell in the house of the Lord forever (with all of you.)
Happy New Year,