We held each other’s hands in the quiet of the house; the Christmas-charged children had finally settled down; it was like the moment after a parade, when the workers come out to sweep up the confetti.
We had just prayed, and we had warbled a broken “Happy Birthday” to Jesus. Tears slipped down my cheeks, and there was some constancy to that, like perhaps my eyes would never stop pouring forth. “This has been the worst, the hardest Christmas I’ve ever had”, he said, rubbing his hand over his face, the way he does when he’s stressed and sad. I nodded.
We’ve invested in rental properties, and a tenant kept falling farther and farther behind on rent, running into one disaster after another with his addictions, and resultant loss of jobs. We rented to him, fresh out of jail, his girlfriend expecting their baby any moment. For a few months it looked like maybe this small family could make life work. The baby loved her mama, her drug-addicted mama, and it hurts my soul to speak of this. He called us from prison, we bailed him out. We did not have money for this, but we knew he needed to be able to work or they’d lose their daughter. Please, can there be some redemption?
The baby was taken into foster care. Sweet baby, how you will bear this? I am glad she is safe and cared for, and I am heartbroken too, for she loved her mama, her mama who also loved drugs. We served them eviction papers and gave them time to relocate their things. They broke back into the house and sublet space to other people, not giving us any rent. We called the prison when our calls to them weren’t answered, and discovered they were both back in jail. Unpaid rent was up to $5,000 now. School taxes were due. We had to clear out the house and get it ready for another renter.
There is great sadness in all of it. My husband has been so stressed and saddened by it all that he hardly sleeps at night. He shakes with stress, and he apologizes for not being able to provide for us all, for the lack of rent income, plus the mortgage, and impending taxes have put us firmly in the red. That’s a sobering thing for a family of eight in the middle stage of life.
“We are vulnerable…one car breakdown, an appliance failing, a medical need…” We let the silence extend. I put a load in the washer, dropped to the cold tile floor, and wept. A crushed mess at Christmas.
That is the load on our backs, weighing heavy. Now let me speak of the beautiful.
A high school friend gifted us two bins full of Legos, many of them Star Wars sets. These became the Christmas gift for our two older sons, who were overcome with wonder and joy. They’ve been joyfully playing with them constantly ever since.
A friend here passed along her kids train track set and wooden castle set; my two middle sons received them with joy for their Christmas gift. The baby was pleased with his thrifted wooden toys, and my daughter quite happy with the clearance bin goods we got for her.
Our families gave beautiful gifts to us; there was merriment as the children opened things they’ve dearly wished for. We were gifted a Christmas tree, because our family helped unload a flatbed full of them at a friend’s business.
On Christmas day a package arrived for me. A book I’ve wanted for three years!! A friend somehow found out and ordered it. I held it to my chest and smiled.
We made cookies with the help of the neighborhood kids, whose own stories are difficult and pain-filled, and I gave up the rolling pin and cutters and let them have at it, mess and all.
We held hands in the quiet.
“Do you know what makes me so happy though?” my husband asked. “Our kids. They are so cute and funny and I love watching their faces as they open gifts; just that expression of joy and surprise.” I nodded.
So much pain, so much stress, so much uncertainty, but oh so much beauty, so much joy, so much life.