As a person who has lived in too many places, part of my holiday cheer involves letters and packages mailed the world over. This also means that, recently, I have spent an inordinate amount of time at the post office.
My parents live in a town small enough to have a post office inside of a pharmacy that also boasts a soda fountain with award winning milk-shakes. Last week, I got to the front of the line with my stack of envelopes and packages. A friendly store employee handed out Christmas milk shake samples, and carols played over tinny speakers, and everything was bustling and cheery.
The post office clerk smiled, and asked about my day, and began weighing my packages to mail. Then, her phone rang. She checked the number, answered, and immediately seemed to crumple in front of me. She said a few quick words, hung up the phone, and grabbed her purse, absently saying to her coworker, “They think he’s had a stroke.” And with that, she was gone, barely hearing her friend call out, “Wait, you’re in no state to drive yourself!”
A few minutes later, her kind coworker came to help me. “Thanks for waiting” she said. And then, “Her husband. A stroke, they think. It’s almost his birthday. 73 on the 29th. Thanks so much for waiting.”
It seemed insufficient, in that moment, to only wait. I wanted to reach over the vast divide of the post office counter, to say the right thing, to offer something helpful. But all I could offer in that moment was standing still.
Later, again at the post office, I learned that her husband was in the hospital, but out of the woods, and he seemed to be speaking, but they were all just waiting to see what would happen.
Back in line, the woman behind me waltzes in with her friend (husband? brother?), and she’s fretting over the glue stick she left in the car, and getting excited about the Nativity stamps because she, “wants the Gospel message right there on the front of the Christmas cards.” She talks to me, and we laugh about all the last minute rush of Christmas. She tells me about her job at the Hobby Lobby, and how people, who have had all year to prepare, come in this last week, flustered and angry and trying to get the perfect picture framed in time for Christmas. And we agree that getting it perfect isn’t the point, that gifts really aren’t the main thing at Christmas.
Our conversation fades, and I move forward in line, and she turns to her friend and says, “Are we going to the thrift store after this?” And he says, “Sure, I could go to the thrift store.” She replies, “I love the thrift store. I am ALWAYS BLESSED at the Goodwill.” Then she laughs, and we move a few more steps forward.
Finally, I make it to the front of the line, and as my many packages are weighed and stamped, a young man steps up beside me. In a certain light, his youthfulness and baggy clothes and serious expression could be intimidating. The clerk asks if there is anything dangerous in the box he is mailing, and when he mumbles, she reacts and sternly asks again, and he calmly enunciates that “It’s a coat.” A coat for his grandma, actually. And the clerk notices the mailing address’s apartment number, and the young man says his grandma is on a top floor of her apartment, and she doesn’t like riding the elevator that high. And then, the clerk assures him the Grandma will receive her cozy coat in time for Christmas, that she won’t have to wait too long.
So many of us, the world over, are waiting at this time of year. Sometimes in the waiting we witness sickness and fear and news that seems to bring our world crashing down. Sometimes, we encounter hope and blessing and the Gospel message in everything from conversation to Christmas cards. And sometimes, our waiting shows us that things aren’t what they seem at first glance, that even though we think we have things figured out, that we are still able to be surprised by the kindness and care of others.
I hope this Christmas finds you out of the lines and busyness of Christmas preparation and surrounded by people you love. And yet, I also hope that, like me, you are still waiting. And in that waiting, I hope you encounter “the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)
Whether you’re in hospital rooms, post office lines, lonely apartments, unstable South Sudan or Burundi, rainy Kijabe, cozy living rooms, hymn filled churches, or even at the Goodwill, I hope you, like my friend (and also like Mary and Elizabeth when they were unexpectedly expecting) will be able to say, “I am blessed.” And may the tender mercy of our God visit you with light and faith this holiday season, and may His visitation guide your feet into the way of peace.
Merry Christmas, and thanks, as always, for reading, and for being a blessing and a light in my life.