I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas with too much food, lots of good loot, and family and friends galore. I sure did. In fact, when I finally managed to get up from the dinner table Christmas Day, all I could do was pat my belly and exclaim, “Now I know how Santa feels!” before waddling off to find a comfy warm spot to retire.
It was a very good Christmas for me – and for reasons more profound than rib roast and mash potatoes can explain. But no matter how good my Christmases are I always remember the ones I used to spend working, when I worked with children in residential treatment; and one event in particular always comes to mind. We set aside a special block of time for the boys in our facility to call or be called by family members on Christmas. It was a bit of a hassle. One staff member had to sit and take notes on the conversation while the boy sat in a glass office, in full view of everyone else in the day room. And the facility had to be relatively calm, which was no easy task with 16 challenging young men all squeezed into one small building. But we tried to be sure each of the boys made or received a call on Christmas. A lot of them had parents that were not allowed to contact them – for various unsavory reasons – but often there was a grandparent, or sibling, or uncle or aunt they could choose from to talk to. But some of the boys, too many, had no one. In those cases we tried to set up a call with a social or Casa worker – or even a lawyer.
One Christmas I was sitting in the office when a boy, he was 13 or 14, came in and asked to make a call. I had him sit down and pulled out the call log to see who he was allowed to have contact with. He only had one number to choose from. It was a social worker, but that’s who he wanted to call, so that was fine. I dialed the number. It rang and rang and then a machine picked up. The number was for the main Child Protective Services office switchboard, closed on Christmas, and was not the social workers personal or cell number. It did not even ring through to their desk so a message could be left. I felt bad, but tried to be cheerful about it, and made a little joke, so he wouldn’t think about the fact that no one had bothered to make arrangements to speak with him on Christmas. He didn’t really say anything but went off.
A little while later he returned and said he wanted to try and call his social worker again. I looked at him for a moment and thought about trying to explain that no one was going to be answering that phone today, no matter how many times we called it, but something made me say, “Sure.” instead, and pull the log back out. I dialed the number, it was on speaker phone. We both sat there as it rang and rang. He staring intently at the phone, me as intently at him. Did he really think that something different was going to happen? Was he hoping for some kind of miracle? Some kind of Christmas miracle that someone at the other end would pick up the phone and say that they cared about him, and loved him, and were making a place for him to come and stay with them? I don’t know, but when the answering machine had finished he nodded, and seemed satisfied, and reached over and hung up the phone. Then he got up, said, “Thanks.” and left. Leaving me feeling silly, awkward, and useless.
I don’t know why it got to me so bad, but it just really did. Maybe it was the cold water revelation of my own powerlessness. And the unpleasant, intense glimpse into someone else’s life. They were horrific shoes. I only had to stand in them for a moment, but that moment was enough to swallow me up whole, and spit me out a wretch.
It was against the rules for me to go and find that boy and tell him that Jesus cared about him, and loved him, and was making a place for him. That he could call on Him and He would answer. I could have been fired if I did, but I don’t think I would have even without that rule. I just didn’t even considered doing it. God help me I did not.
So I was very pleased this year that my church made such an effort to be available to the community and to each other at Christmas. I was very proud to be a part of that. The Neigh-tivity, the Tapestry of Light, the Women’s Tea, the Fair Trade Festival, the Breakfast Bunch, the Parent’s Nite Out, the Deacon’s Christmas Families, (have I missed anything?) the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services, and the Christmas Dinner at the Smith’s – all these events took place in December – and they all made me feel as though we were there to answer the phone for people – that we were here to answer any desperate calls with the love of Jesus. I’m not sure how many, if any, of those calls we got, but it sure was redemptive for me. So I want to thank all of you who played a part in any of those things. Some I know, carried a tremendous weight of responsibility, but some played a vital role by being a volunteer at an event, or an usher or a greeter, or by simply being a smiling, welcoming face to a stranger, or a word of encouragement to someone that you knew was hurting in our midst this Christmas – or perhaps you were someone who came and were ministered to, like I was. But to each of you, for whatever role you played, I thank you for answering the call this Christmas.