“God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.”
– Elizabeth Barrett Browning
I wanted new tires. I got a new car.
Oh, not because I had stars in my eyes or a new status symbol for an inflated ego, but because the driver following me too closely one recent morning couldn’t stop as quickly as I did, and merged his vehicle solidly with mine.
My car was totaled, but the loss is immaterial or, I should say, only material. Other than a mild whiplash for my granddaughter, both of us survived unscathed, and we have another chance at life. Nor was the other driver or anyone else on the road with us hurt in any way. The police cited the tailgater, my insurance company quickly settled my claim, and I now have another car to meet my transportation needs.
The residuals of this experience have defined my Christmas celebration this year in every way. As a church musician, I already had enough on my plate at this time of year and didn’t need the aggravation of even a non-injury accident.
But my “plate” is nothing compared to those battling far more serious circumstances than mine, and my self-centeredness was exposed. I thought of two friends who are facing uncertain health issues that might not go away when the music is over and the trees are taken down.
I remembered, too, the family in our church who suffered the loss of their mother just before Thanksgiving, and their father scarcely a month later. What sadness, what grief, at Christmas or any time of the year! Why only a minor accident for me, and such sorrow for them? My gratitude for the gifts of life and family, so often taken for granted, is now indescribable.
Illness also struck our family this year and it seemed, for one of my sons and his family, there might not be much to celebrate this Christmas. But with additional treatment by a skilled surgeon, a new antibiotic, just the right “specialist” to handle his unique need, and a wall of prayer warriors akin to the prophet’s account of “the wall of protection God once placed around the city of Jerusalem” (Zechariah 2:5), not only were we able to celebrate a complete family Christmas, but we’ve been given an even stronger, more personal example of the gift of life.
Then, as you might know, about two months ago my Columbia County history book finally arrived. This was a happy time for me, but talk about having a full plate. I was already surprised by the length of the project and cost of publication, but the unknowns were far from over. Thanks to a competent accountant, I learned the difference between sales tax, use tax, and no tax for buyers from non-profit agencies for the books I sold myself, and my own tax exemption for books sold to those who resell the books and collect the tax themselves.
My calculator and I have both been bleary-eyed from checking and cross-checking each category of numbers and mailing the correct tax amount to the state of Georgia by the due date each month.
Perhaps I did get more work than I wanted in the book category, too, but what a small price to pay for what I’ve received. I had hoped to please those whose often fragile story I was telling, but I’ve been a writer long enough to know the reaction to my words can be quite different from their intent, and I expected at least some verbal “tomatoes” for getting something wrong. I had also hoped to sell enough books to at least pay my final publication costs on time.
There still might be some unhurled “tomatoes” out there, but so far I haven’t felt a one. Instead, people have been more kind in their response than I expected, and they’ve already purchased enough copies to retire my outstanding debt. (Pardon me while I wipe away a new set of tears.)
What is the true spirit of Christmas, we often ask? It’s never the material, never about the new toy, article of clothing, piece of jewelry, or even a new car. It’s always the intangible – life, family, love, valuing each other, and gratitude for what they mean to us.
But that’s only the human side of this grand season. Ultimately, the true spirit of Christmas is like that wall the prophet spoke about so long ago, not one made of brick, mortar or human hands. All these intangibles are but reflections of a loving God whose primary gift to us has always been forgiveness for our self-centeredness and other wrongs, for which He gave us something very tangible, His only Son, our Savior.
How could I, the parent of two sons, how could anyone, expect that much for Christmas or anytime?
(Barbara Seaborn is a local, freelance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)