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Skipping Christmas Letters
It's a little annoying to receive lengthy letters from former friends that gush about how well they're doing.

Although it has been a family tradition since my Scottish ancestors stowed away on the Mayflower, I have decided to avoid the writing of a Christmas letter this year. The main reason is that each year I receive lengthy letters from former friends of mine. It's a little annoying to hear just how very well their lives are proceeding. For instance, this letter arrived last December. Names have been changed to protect the guilty:

… the New Year's Day explosion...should have foreshadowed things to come.

Merry Christmas dear friend:

It's been such a great year! Little Joseph (age 10) continues to excel in his studies in Grade 11. It was slow going that first day in biophysics but he's pulled up his socks enough to be grading papers for his favourite teacher.

Joy (8) was voted Female Athlete of the Year in three separate sports (basketball, tennis, and skeet-shooting) and won both the fly-fishing derby and the pie bake-off for the second year running.

Jonathan (6) is on the honour roll again, but has struggled a little with Spanish because he finds it similar to Portuguese which he mastered last year. He enjoys leading the discipleship group and volunteering at the seniors' centre.

After my promotion, we decided to spend a month in the Caribbean where we adopted the twins (Juanita and Jose).

My lovely wife June is tireless. She home schools the kids, serves as a mid-wife (58 births this year) and has written her second dieting book.

My job at the bank is challenging, but difficulty squeezes the best from us all, doesn't it?

Signed, Jerry (Joyful in Moose Jaw)

If I were to postpone my procrastinating long enough to write a Christmas letter this year, it wouldn't look anything like Jerry's. In fact, it might arrive looking something like this:

Warm Greetings from the Callaways,

I was hoping to tell you of our wonderful year. Then January arrived. In hindsight, the New Year's Day explosion (a simple mix-up involving household chemicals like paint and bleach) should have foreshadowed things to come.

On Valentine's Day, the basement sewer backed up. Apparently, Jeffrey spent years wondering what would happen if he flushed a beach towel.

March saw one of us total the fender on the Ford three days before the engine light came on for good.

May began with word of the tax audit (I accidentally added an extra zero to a cheque we wrote to our church), and in June the flooding began.

It's been quite a year. Three of my friends moved away and another experienced a massive heart attack.

My mother broke both hips in the space of two months, and on Canada Day, my father succumbed to Alzheimer's-related pneumonia. Three days after his funeral we buried Ramona's eldest brother. After a 20- year battle with Huntington's disease, Dennis will be Home for Christmas.

You get the idea!

A Yuletide epistle from the Callaways would hardly be welcome reading while roasting chestnuts on an open fire. If joy is a barometer that mirrors our circumstances, we've had an awful year. But we haven't.

Jeffrey left the front door open while we were decorating the Christmas tree—trying to heat the great outdoors—and I yelled: "Were you born in a barn?" He poked his head around the corner and laughed." Jesus was," he said. And he was right. God sent His Son into the world for families like ours, where the unexpected and the tragic infiltrate daily living, where questions don't find ready answers and parenting can be exhilarating and exasperating all in the space of six seconds. He came to the messiest of places, invading our brokenness with hope.

This Christmas will mark the first time that I will open presents without my father. Through the years he gave me some wonderful gifts. Skates. A Maple Leafs jersey. And more recently a light blue sweater that I haven't had the nerve to wear publicly or the heart to throw away. But Christmas was never about stuff. It was about relationships. As Dad liked to say: "It's not our birthday we're celebrating now, is it, Son?"

So this year beneath the tree, the Callaway children will receive plane tickets notifying them that we'll be starting the New Year right—by spending a week in Haiti helping others. I'll be wrapping up some household cleaners for my wife. A little bleach. A little paint. And after I help Jeffrey pick out some new bath towels, I think I'll wrap up a family heirloom for the boy. I've heard light blue sweaters are all the rage for teenagers these days.

In Christian love, the Callaways!

Looking for a Christmas gift they'll keep on opening? Purchase Phil's books at www.philcallaway.com.

Phil Callaway is the editor of Servant magazine, author of a dozen books and a popular speaker. His web site is: www.philcallaway.com.

Originally published in Faith & Friends, December 2005.

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