“I’m sorry. They aren’t here.” The uniformed attendant raises his chin slightly with his announcement.
From my second in charge position behind my husband’s broad shoulder, I watch in a tired daze as the frazzled gentleman reiterates his words. This time he adds a new twist.
“I’m sorry, they must still be in Philadelphia. You’ll have to call and check for updates.”
Disbelief begins to well and bubble over from somewhere in the depths of my exhausted, holiday brain. Everything we packed to wear for this short vacation including our carefully selected gifts are missing. We won’t have any impressive clothes to be dressed in on Christmas eve or any gaily wrapped presents to share with long missed relatives. Our surprise visit home is giving us a surprise instead.
This trip north is planned as a surprise for my husband’s aging parents. Since moving to Florida four years before we long for a real white Christmas again. Our recollections of homemade pies and choruses sung ‘round the piano urge us to book flights at the last possible moment and join throngs of other travelers headed for their own Christmas memories.
The one hour drive from the airport is accompanied by chattering teeth as our scant coats valiantly try to keep us warm.
“I need a toothbrush and comb of my own! I won’t borrow those from grandma!”
“We’ll stop at Wal-Mart. Just run in fast or we’ll get there when Christmas is over.” I force my frozen hands to dig into my purse and draw out a ten. My husband pulls the car up to the front of the dismal storefront as my daughter whisks her door open and sprints for the lighted entrance.
“I really wanted to make a good impression. I brought all our best clothes. What will I wear to church tomorrow night?” I moan against the jack- frost covered window.
“You can borrow something from mom and I will from dad. It’ll work, just wait and see. When we get our luggage back we can always give them their presents later.”
“Well, now is not the time for an airline to walk off the job. It’s Christmas!”
We awake to snow covered fields and the smell of fresh cinnamon rolls baking in the oven. My borrowed pink flowered sweatpants keep me snug in the upper bedroom of the old farmhouse despite the chill that always settles in the room that has no benefit of modern radiators. Seeking out the Christmas tree soon after, I mourn that my own gifts won’t be waiting there on Christmas morning.
Later that evening, well-meaning family members manage to round up enough clean sweaters for us to wear with our worn jeans to the Christmas eve service. I cringe at the impression we will make as old friends notice the outfits we will be wearing instead of our Christmas best.
At precisely 7 pm, our extended family squeezes into the long wooden pew of the Baptist church my husband helped to build and where my daughter was baptized. My skin still tingles from the ardent hugs and kisses that were showered on us upon our arrival. I reflect on my lost presents stashed in the belly of an airplane somewhere and how my best friend just squeezed me and told me that seeing me was the best present she could ever receive.
As the congregation settles in the pastor solemnly opens his bible to the story that has been recited on Christmas eve for generations. He guides us into a closer glimpse of our Savior’s birth. A birth where only a stable offers a bed. A birth where only torn rags offer a covering.
He reminds us that Jesus could have chosen to bring crowns to adorn his head, robes to cover his chilled body. He could have packed endless furnishings from any one of his mansions. He didn’t. He chose instead to bring the gift of endless love and salvation for me.
I glance down at my oversized sweater loaned to me by my generous mother-in-law. I glance at my husband’s worn Carhart work coat pulled out for service from his Dad’s basement. My teenage daughter softly pulls at threads from a knitted scarf loaned to her from her younger cousin.
Bowing my head, I give thanks anew that the only luggage I ever need to carry with me is my relationship with the One who chooses to always bear all my baggage.
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