This commentary written by Lyle Rapacki and the woman’s story that follows is from an email Lyle shared with others a few years ago.
Thank you Lyle for sharing your struggle, and this wonderful story…
This story I send you, with a little snip here and a little edit there, is a story I lived. My own “true” Christmas actually played out over several months, and not just once but twice…the tendency to care for myself and be an island kept getting in the way of some important God lessons I greatly needed to learn. These types of lessons seem the most difficult, almost never ending, emotionally draining but so rewarding when you come across the finish line.
This story you are about to read was personally handed to me as I finished my second experience which was separated from my first by about a year and a half. While a little wiser the second time around, I was still prone to handle events alone and with a stiff upper lip; after-all, I had been trained to count on myself. I didn’t even view God as my true friend; someone who cared about me personally, intimately, who knew me right well. I viewed Him more as a stern Father figure waiting for me to screw up. Not as someone who stood ready to never leave or forsaken me and to be there for me, even when all others’ left.
I was on a path to learn that God was waiting to embrace me whether I succeeded or failed; that God’s love thru Jesus Christ covered all things in my life; including all secrets and all hurts; hours of evil and selfishness and minutes of worry; every reflection of not measuring up to some standard – covered! I was walking a path learning that the God of the universe is not aloof, that He is not so far above us that He can’t see and understand our problems, even those buried deep within our heart.
One message I want you to take away from this personal email is this: The life of Jesus Christ is a message of love and intimacy with our Heavenly Father and hope. No matter your circumstances or standing in the community of man; no matter what challenges you face, or the fears and tears locked up way down deep inside you where even you dare not venture, the message of Christ’s birth is hope. The message of God is hope. The message of Jesus Christ is acceptance only He can provide.
Have a Blessed and Joyous Christmas, and allow the mystery that is in Christ’s birth be revealed to you, and may you laugh and sing and hope.
******* – LYLE
My own “true” Christmas began on a rainy spring day in the bleakest year of my life. Recently divorced, I was in my 30’s, had no job, and was on my way downtown to go the rounds of the employment offices. I had no umbrella, for my old one had fallen apart, and I could not afford another one. I sat down in the streetcar – and there against the seat was a beautiful silk umbrella with a silver handle inlaid with gold and flecks of bright enamel. I had never seen anything so lovely.
I examined the handle and saw a name engraved among the golden scrolls. The usual procedure would have been to turn in the umbrella to the conductor, but on impulse I decided to take it with me and find the owner myself. I got off the streetcar in a downpour and thankfully opened the umbrella to protect myself. Then I searched a telephone book for the name on the umbrella and found it. I called and a lady answered.
Yes, she said in surprise that was her umbrella, which her parents, now dead, had given her for a birthday present. But, she added, it had been stolen from her locker at school (she was a teacher) more than a year before. She was so excited that I forgot I was looking for a job and went directly to her small house. She took the umbrella, and her eyes filled with tears.
The teacher wanted to give me a reward, but – though twenty dollars was all I had in the world – her happiness at retrieving this special possession was such that to have accepted money would have spoiled something. We talked for a while, and I must have given her my address, I don’t remember.
The next six months were wretched. I was able to obtain only temporary employment here and there, for a small salary, though this was what they called the Roaring Twenties when money flowed like water. But I put aside twenty-five or fifty cents when I could afford it for my little girl’s Christmas presents. (It took me six months to save eight dollars). My last job ended the day before Christmas, my thirty dollar rent was soon due, and I had fifteen dollars to my name – which Peggy and I would need for food. She was home from school and was excitedly looking forward to her gifts the next day, which I had already purchased. I had bought her a small tree, and we were going to hang some paper ornaments and popcorn along with a few handmade items on our tree.
The stormy air was full of the sound of Christmas merriment as I walked from the streetcar to my small apartment. Bells rang and children shouted in the bitter dusk of the evening, and windows were lighted and everyone was running and laughing. But there would be no Christmas for me I knew, no gifts; no remembrance whatsoever. As I struggled through the snowdrifts, I had just about reached the lowest point in my life. Unless a miracle happened, I would be homeless in January, foodless, jobless. I had prayed steadily for weeks, and there had been no answer but this coldness and darkness, this harsh air, this abandonment. God and men had completely forgotten me. I felt old as death, and as lonely. What was to become of us?
I looked in my mailbox. There were only bills in it, a sheaf of them, and two white envelopes which I was sure contained more bills. I went up three dusty flights of stairs, and I cried, shivering in my thin coat. But I made myself smile so I could greet my little daughter with a pretense of happiness. She opened the door for me and threw herself in my arms, screaming joyously and demanding that we decorate the tree immediately.
Peggy had proudly set our kitchen table for our evening meal and put pans out and three cans of food which would be our dinner. For some reason, when I looked at those pans and cans, I felt brokenhearted. We would have only hamburgers for our Christmas dinner tomorrow, and gelatin. For the first time in my life, I doubted the existence of God and His mercy, and the coldness in my heart was colder than ice.
The doorbell rang and Peggy ran fleetly to answer it, calling that it must be Santa. Then I heard a man talking heartily to her and went to the door. He was a delivery man, and his arms were full of parcels, and he was laughing at my child’s frenzied joy and her dancing. “This is a mistake,” I said, but he read the name on the parcels and they were for me. When he had gone I could only stare at the boxes. Peggy and I sat on the floor and opened them. A huge doll, three times the size of the one I had bought for her. Gloves; Candy; a beautiful leather purse; Incredible! I looked for the name of the sender. It was the teacher, the address simply “California,” where she had moved.
Our dinner that evening was the most delicious I had ever eaten. I could only pray, “thank you, Father.” I forgot I had no money for the rent and only fifteen dollars in my purse and no job. My child and I ate and laughed together in happiness. Then we decorated the little tree and marveled at it. I put Peggy to bed and set her gifts around the tree and a sweet peace flooded me like a benediction. I had some hope again. I could even examine the sheaf of bills without cringing. Then I opened the two white envelopes. One contained a check for thirty dollars from a company I had worked for briefly in the summer. It was, said a note, my “Christmas bonus.” My rent!
The other envelope was an offer of a permanent position with the government – to begin two days after Christmas. I sat with the letter in my hand and the check on the table before me, and I think that was the most joyful moment of my life up to that time.
The church bells began to ring. The storm had stopped. The sky was pure and glittering with stars. I opened the window and listened, “The Lord is born!” sang the bells to the crystal night. I heard singing – “Come, all ye Faithful!” I am not alone at all, I thought. I was never alone at all. And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent. For this is still the time God chooses.
— Taylor Caldwell
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