“Christmas again. Damn!” His words are barely audible, but his wife knows the feeling well. She sees the hurt come into his eyes when the kids come home from school, talking about what they want for Christmas.
She knows this year will be no different than the last. All her husband's hustle, his day labor jobs, his pick-up work will not be enough to put presents under the tree. They will do well to keep the heat on. His confident promising deceptions allow the children the luxury of their dreams a while longer. She will cover for him again because she knows he is a good man. His lies are his wishes, his flawed attempts to let his children know what the older one’s know but never admit: the gifts are not from daddy.
He will not go with her to stand in the free toy lines with all the others. He cannot bring himself to do it. It is too stark a reminder of his own impotence. And if their home is blessed with a visit from a Christian family bearing food and beautifully wrapped presents, he will stay in the bedroom until they are gone. His joy for the children will be genuine, but so will the ache in his stomach as his image of himself as a provider is dealt another death blow.
As I read this and a dozen other stories this morning, from a book called Theirs is the Kingdom by Robert Lupton, tears welled up in my eyes. I don’t know why this morning was any different. I see this stuff on the street and at the recycling center every day; but today, the Holy Spirit broke through me, breaking my heart in spite of me.
Here is another one.
I hit the button on my alarm at 6am, the whistling in the windows telling me it was another cold January day. The thermostat was slightly high making it difficult to sleep, too warm with two blankets, too cold with one. No matter now, the hot steamy shower woke me up.
At 6:29 I was out the door bundled in coat and scarf. As I opened the door to my car, my heart froze. A man sat behind the wheel. I reacted instantly, raising my fist to catch him off guard before he responded to me. He slowly turned to meet my angry face.
“What are you doing in my car!” I blurted out, my fist still clenched.
“I’m not in your car, sir,” the man slurred in a frightened, thick-tongued voice. “I’m not in your car, sir” he muttered again as he slowly maneuvered his body out of my car, and teetered across the front lawn.
It wasn’t until five minutes later, driving down the street that it hit me. I remembered my thoughts in the hot shower about the thermostat keeping me awake. There were worse things than sleeping too warm. I remembered how good it felt to shave and slip into nicely pressed clothes, and I rememberd how frightened and violated I felt, that a stranger had intruded where he had no right to be.
Why? Why should it be, I wondered, that I am so concerned about sleeping too warm, when another human being, equally loved by their creator, barely survives in a cold car outside my house.
The Christ, the despised one, spoke deeply on my spirit. It was the voice of one who himself had no place to lay his head. I began to weep. I remembered my clenched fist, and my compassionless expulsion of this stranger from my life. I cried in sorrow for a broken man who I had sent off into the cold. And I sorrowed for the one whose heart is not yet sufficiently broken.
“I am sorry, Lord, for turning you into the cold. Thank you for using my car.