My favorite Christmas memories have been those holidays spent with you, no matter how lean the times were. I cherished taking you to church and holding your hands as we listened to the familiar verses from Luke and Isaiah. I never missed reading to you from my copy of Twas the Night Before Christmas. I would spend hours penning letters to you from Santa Claus, sometimes finishing minutes before you awoke. Those times are some of the most rewarding moments I have spent alive.
Dear Alexandria and Mary Ellen,
Things have been what they normally are in the third and fourth weeks of December, and that is busy. Whatever deity on high that confers upon me my schedule has decreed that I should have Christmas off and we have made plans to honor that gift with a proper celebration. Above my head there are some very nice gifts waiting for you. Among them is a mountain bike for Mary Ellen and an old school record player for Alexandria. You will be pleased, I think. You are always pleased, even though many of our Christmases past have been slim pickings compared to the gifts enjoyed by your peers. Writing that fact causes me to shudder as I realize that even thinking such a jealous thought is a repudiation of the values I hold dear. You have truly wanted for nothing that is important. Your bellies are full and a fine roof is over you precious heads. There are good schools and safe streets. You are aware of God’s love and active presence in your lives. You are each smart and caring and interested in the world around you.
But what father doesn’t wish that he couldn’t do just a little more for his daughters? As I sit with my drink this late night, having tucked Mary Ellen and the BunnyPig into bed as Alexandria snored comically from her cave, the thoughts of all of the things that I wish I could do for you are hard to suppress. I will pray about that, as I know that will bring my heart back into alignment with what is truly important.
As I write this, I am thinking of my Christmases past. I wrote to you recently of Rome; let me tell you, Christmases there were something to behold. I had the chance to submerge myself in the pageantry of a Christmas Eve vigil at Saint Peter’s Basilica. I visited the market at Piazza Navona, where each stall was filled with handmade goods and Christmas créches of every possible description. Piazza di Spanga was filled with white lights on one end so that the effect was that of falling snow. I would gather on the Spanish Steps with my friends and there would be fire roasted chestnuts from an old gypsy man and cold beer and wine and I would feel like I was at the center of the universe.
As special as those times abroad were, my favorite Christmas memories have been those holidays spent with you, no matter how lean the times were. I cherished taking you to church and holding your hands as we listened to the familiar verses from Luke and Isaiah. I never missed reading to you from my copy of Twas the Night Before Christmas. I would spend hours penning letters to you from Santa Claus, sometimes finishing minutes before you awoke. Those times are some of the most rewarding moments I have spent alive. I would give up all of my Rome Christmases for even just one Christmas spent doing those things with and for you.
Alas, this letter is not about the past as much as it is about the future. I find myself wondering what your future Christmases will be like. It is my hope that you will not find yourself struggling to fill the space under the tree and wasting time feeling guilty about it. I have expended much wasted time on those feelings of inadequacy, much to my shame and your mother’s chagrin. I hope you learn early, as I did much later, that the greatest gifts cannot fit under the tree. If I could wrap up anything to give to you for your Christmas futures, here is a list of what those gifts might be:
A child’s gleeful laughter
Bedtime cuddles around a Christmas story
True love’s tender embrace
The voice of an old friend
Sweet and sacred memories of the ones who celebrate with us in the company of our Heavenly Father
A moment of quiet stillness
The happy chaos of family
A sudden unbidden kindness from a stranger
And finally, the sense of peace that comes from embracing the forgiveness that is yours– and has been since before you were born.
I hope that we will enjoy many more Christmas celebrations together. Right now the house has fallen nearly silent. In a few hours, you will awake to Christmas morning and all of the things that go along with it. I am thinking back to church yesterday afternoon and how Alexandria put her head on my shoulder while Mary Ellen held my hand. I felt like a good father then, maybe for the first time ever. My Christmas gift has been delivered, and in thanking God for that, I offer a short and simple prayer for each of you:
May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with each of you, now and forever. You girls are the light of my world. I hope you know that.