Christmas Eve is one of my favorite nights. It's like the pre-game show before the Super Bowl, only interesting. Growing up, we always stayed home the night before Christmas, and the highlight was opening gifts from relatives before the next morning. Presents opened on Christmas morning were strictly from Santa Claus, of course.
When Doc and I were older, the first year that we no longer received packages from Mr. Kringle, we decided to open only one gift on Christmas Eve, to tide us over. But then, we opened one more. Then another. Soon, there were no more to open that night as well as the next morning. After that, we decided to never open gifts on the night before Christmas; we saved them all for the next morning.
After Flash and I got married, I thought it would be fun to try to muster up some self-control and attempt opening only one gift on Christmas Eve. We succeeded. But the next Christmas Eve, Flash told me, “I’ll wait to open all my presents tomorrow.”
“You don’t think it’s fun to get a gift early?" I asked.
"Not when you're getting only one present," he said. Slow, forlorn Charlie Brown Christmas music began playing in my head. I looked at him as if he were five years old. Never in our history has Flash had only one present under our tree. And Santa always fills his stocking with dark chocolates and at least one frivolous gift.
"Really, honey? One present? You know you have more than that.”
“Okay,” he said, “maybe two.”
"Well, when you grow up and become a big boy, things change,” I explained. “You don't get as many as when you were little.”
"Yeah. It sucks, doesn't it?" The Ghost of Christmas Presents stood before me, threatening to bring me down from my holiday euphoria. Even earlier in the evening, he’d been a fountain of cheer. "Well, tomorrow's the big day. The grand finale. And then it's all over. Then it's another 364 days to get through."
He was mourning the passing of the holiday before it had begun. Truly a Yuletide buzzkill.
“Flash, you know Christmas lasts until spring.”
“Whatever,” Ebenezer replied. “The tree comes down on January 1.”
And so began our Traditional Holiday Discussion. The way I see it, after waiting months for the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, then spending time putting up lights, decorating the tree, shopping, wrapping presents, and cooking, it’s only rational to make the festivities last as long as possible, which includes leaving the tree up past January.
Our longest Christmas season so far was in 2001. As usual, it began in October, when Cowboy and I always start watching holiday movies. Soon, Thanksgiving had passed, and it was time to get serious about my Christmas shopping. My aspirations are always to shop throughout the year, but it never happens. I only had a few things tucked away in my not-so-secret hiding place.
The last week of November, Flash was nervous. Every day, he came home from work saying, “Something’s going on at work. I don’t have a good feeling about my job.”
“What do you mean?” I’d ask, each time.
“I can’t put my finger on it, but something’s very wrong. I just know it.”
Thinking he was worrying for nothing, I finally said, in my best Mary Poppins cheerful voice, “You’re just doing that guy thing where you get paranoid about your job. It’s a cycle; I’ve seen you do this before. Everything’s fine.” Regardless of my reassurances, he was sure something bad was about to happen.
A few days later, on December 3, Flash called me from work to tell me he’d lost his job at Enron.
He was shaken, as were all whose lives were changed that day. It was surreal. I waited for panic to hit me, but it never showed up. I didn’t feel that punch in the stomach that usually comes with bad news. And, unheard of for me, I wasn’t worried. Worry had been my major field of study in the School of Life; I’d graduated with honors. But this time was different. I encouraged Flash, having no idea what the future would bring for our family, and I never felt fearful. I couldn’t explain why I was calm, but I knew it was supernatural. Peace enveloped me.
What followed in the weeks afterward was crazy. A letter Flash wrote to the media brought us a lot of attention, including several television and newspaper interviews. In every instance, without either of us discussing this before the interviews, we each felt compelled to talk about our faith. Flash was honest in describing his feelings of betrayal and anger, but he wanted to encourage others.
One Sunday morning, we woke to a phone call from a man in Wisconsin, a fellow father of a child with autism. “Is this Flash Lindquist?” he asked.
“Is this the Flash Lindquist who is on the front page of the New York Times, with his son?”
Dead silence ensued. We’d had no idea. We’d thought the result of that particular interview would be tucked away inside the paper.
The kind caller explained that Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy, often used with children on the autism spectrum, was free in Wisconsin, if we were interested in moving. We were touched at his concern for us and our child.
Needless to say, when Flash hung up, we set a record getting ready for church, and rushed to the nearest Starbucks for several copies of the New York Times. I fully expected the other customers to run up to Flash and Cowboy, exclaiming, “Oh my gosh! You’re the guys on the cover!” I was crestfallen when nobody looked up from their coffee.
When we saw our friend Casey at church, we shared the events of our morning with him, and I said, “I guess we’ll have our 15 minutes of fame.”
“Oh, with the New York Times, I think it will be a lot longer than 15 minutes,” he replied.
Indeed. What ensued was a scene right out of It’s a Wonderful Life. There were more television interviews, and we received countless phone calls from all over the country, mostly from dads of children with disabilities. One such father paid our COBRA payments while Flash was unemployed. Many letters of encouragement, as well as donations to help continue three-year-old Cowboy’s various therapies for autism, were sent to us. We were humbled and grateful, and I’ve kept every one of those letters throughout the years. Of course, there were times of profound sadness for Flash and those who had worked for Enron; we weren’t oblivious to the pain of everyone affected. We prayed regularly for them.
With Christmas almost here, we knew it would be a slim one. We went to a job fair in Houston that was for former Enron employees. As we walked by the table sponsored by the Salvation Army, one of the volunteers asked, “Can we help you?”
“Oh no, we’re okay,” I answered. “Thanks.”
“We’re here to help you. Do you have Christmas gifts bought?”
“No, but we’re okay. I have a few little things. We’re fine.”
“Are you sure? We’re here to help you out,” the kind lady persisted.
I explained that I was sure there were others who needed it more than we did. We’d have a few things wrapped under the tree, and I wasn’t upset about it.
Finally, she insisted, explaining that the help was for everyone. “Why don’t you let us help you?”
She had eradicated my feelings of selfishness; I accepted her offer. With tears in my eyes, I signed up for the help. The waterworks started again when I soon received gift cards in the mail to buy presents for our kids. The outpouring of compassion and generosity towards those who lost their jobs was something I’ll never forget; I constantly heard bells ringing, from a multitude of angels in human form getting their wings. But the most profound miracle I witnessed involved my faith.
As an adult, I’d equated having a job with security. Over the years, that security fed a false sense of self-reliance. When Flash’s employment was stripped away, we both had a choice: we could despair, or we could hang onto the sufficiency of Christ. We chose the latter. Rather than our faith being shaken, we were reminded of the true source of our security. What should have been devastation was revelation.
We had the most wonderful Christmas, attending every holiday event that was free of charge in and around Houston. We drove around looking at Christmas lights several times a week, and spent more time together as a family. The most exciting part was the many opportunities we were given to encourage other people; so many had been brought to financial ruin because of the Enron debacle. I cut coupons more than usual, and stocked up on turkeys during December. We ate turkey until we sprouted feathers. To add variety, I created my own version of turkey soup; it’s still a big hit today.
In January, I announced, “We’re leaving the tree up until you get a job, Flash.” For once, there was no argument. Flash had a lot of emotions to work through, so I wanted to keep the atmosphere in the house hopeful.
Finally, in March, Flash’s secured another job - with Enron Credit Union. It was the first time I was excited to take down our Christmas tree, and my stepdaughter, Zelda, announced that she would never eat turkey again.
But, in spite of the company’s changing its name, many customers closed their accounts. A year later, Flash was laid off; it was a refresher course on faith. The father who had paid our COBRA payments before, paid them again. I guess God wanted to make sure we were hearing Him loud and clear.
A few months later, Flash got another job – his current job.
Since that time, not only has Christmas been different for us, but life has been different. Of course, sometimes I regress, and worry rears its ugly head. But often, God reminds me of that Christmas when I learned to trust Him more. He reminds me that He is, and has always been, my security. Then, my hope is renewed, my nerves calmed, and I trust Him once again.
A portion of this post was published in At the Foot of the Cross copyright © 2011 by Sagemont Church.