I was at a party the other night, and I overheard someone asking a friend, "Do you have a Christmas that is most memorable for you?" Though the question was not directed at me, it got me thinking as we drove home. There certainly are certain Christmases that stand out more than others...a Christmas in Brasil where my siblings and I all had chicken pox!...a Christmas in Wisconsin my senior year of high school when we attended a special Christmas eve service at my Uncle Bob's church, the snow was falling, and it looked like a Currier and Ives painting...the Christmas the first year we were married...the Christmas after we had our first baby boy...yet one that stood out occurred when I was in college.
It was my freshman year at Bethel University, in St. Paul, Minnesota. My parents had recently moved back to Lake Stevens, WA after two years in Wisconsin. Money was tight for me...I worked part time in the college food service and had a full load of classes. Like some other students from out of state, I had found a ride home for Christmas with several other students from Washington state and we planned to leave on Friday afternoon, the week before Christmas, as soon as finals were over. Our plan was to take turns driving, all five of us, and reach home in about 30 hours or so, weather depending.
Sunday night before finals week started, our townhouse full of girls was invited to go on a hayride through the snow with a townhouse full of guys...can you imagine that?!! It seemed like the perfect thing to do after a weekend of studying and trying to speed read all the additional reading some professors loved to require! We all drove out to the countryside outside of St. Paul, got some hot cider, and hopped on large hay wagons. It was a beautiful, clear, cold night and a friend and I sat down on the very back of one of the wagons, crossed our legs, and started chatting away. The guys were a little rowdier and started pushing each other off. My friend and I really weren't paying attention to them, when all of a sudden, one of the guys pushed us off too! It happened so fast that I had no time to uncross my legs and I hit the icy trail cross legged and heard an ominous snap as I landed. I tried to jump up to get back on the wagon and pain shot through my left leg. I couldn't put any weight on it at all. My friend called for help and I was lifted back onto the wagon, with my leg beginning to throb.
After reaching the barn where we had started, I was taken to Emergency and x rays confirmed that I had broken the fibula in my left leg above my ankle. The doc set the bone and put me in a cast from the tip of my toes up to mid thigh. He gave me instructions to keep my leg elevated as much as possible and gave me some medication for pain. Somehow it occurred to me to tell him about my plan to ride home in a car in five days, driving straight through to WA. He said that was a really bad idea with my broken my leg and strongly advised against it. I was heartbroken. I knew it was too late and too expensive to get a plane ticket home at this point.
I called home to give my parents the news and my mom said she would call her sister, my aunt Essie, and see if I could go there for Christmas break...about a two hour drive away. Essie graciously invited me to come and so that was my new plan. I love my aunt and uncle and their kids, but I was pretty disappointed that I would not be home with my parents and family.
I had a miserable week. My leg throbbed with pain and I had to put off all my finals until Thursday and Friday. Initially I had drawn a great finals schedule, with one a day...perfect for a student like me who liked to cram and rely on my short term memory! There was nothing I could do but try to muddle through, even though I was on pain pills and pretty out of it. My townhouse mates were so helpful...bringing me meals and trying to help me stay awake to study. Thursday night, after feeling like I had bombed my final that day, I began to pack a few clothes to take with me to Wisconsin, and was trying to focus and cram for my three finals the next day.
One of my townhouse mates knocked on my bedroom door and said someone was asking for me at the door. I hobbled out to the living room with my crutches and opened the door. There was a crowd of Bethel friends, as many as the landing and stairway could hold, yelling, "Merry Christmas!" One of them handed me an envelope and said, "Open it!" So I did, and inside was a round trip airplane ticket home, leaving Friday night. I was in shock! One of my townhouse mates told me they had felt so badly that I couldn't go home that they all chipped in and took up a collection for a plane ticket from other Bethel students. A student with a parent who had travel connections managed to get me seat on a plane to Seattle.
Tears flowed down my face and I could barely whisper, "Thank you." I knew this money had been sacrificially given...most of the students I knew were on scholarship like me...and really didn't have any extra money, especially with Christmas just around the corner. And to know that my townhouse mates had expended all that effort to make this happen during finals week...I was overwhelmed! God had showed up in a big way!
My parents were so happy to see me and it was wonderful to recuperate at home for two weeks. Knowing that I almost hadn't made it home made everything so much more meaningful and I was so thankful to be there.
Returning to Minnesota in January was no picnic...I lived on the third floor, and had to hobble up and down exterior flights of icy stairs every day, but somehow it didn't get me down. The memory of that so unexpected, miraculous gift, buoyed me along until the cast came off six weeks later.
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. I've been busy baking, eating my way through Costco, finishing gifts and wrapping...you too? My prayer is that you will experience in a new and fresh way the many ways that He comes to us...and loves us so. Like the old carol says "The happy Christmas comes once more, The heavenly guest is at the door (sometimes literally!), The blessed words the shepherds thrill, The joyous tidings, Peace, Goodwill." Merry Christmas! I'll be back in the new year.