During my two voluntary years away from the work force, I've seen Christmas come and go on more than 700 consecutive days.
Because we have a huge mortgage and two kids, doomsday prophets immediately forecast the loss of our home and cars, along with any leftover dignity. Although our income was slashed in half, we have survived - and in some cases, thrived - with a less-is-more attitude.
True enough, it's hard to feel any joy as we chip away at savings meant for our older son's education. But that joy is magnified in the knowledge that a mighty roof is still over his head. Our lives are more precious than the money-losing money in a 401(k) account.
Comedian Richard Pryor once quipped that he could remember a recession so bad, it didn't have a year - people just called it "hard times." Always, as families, communities, and country, we will pass through storms of uncertainty. Where there is a will, though tossed about, a way is made for those who can weather them.
Personally, if I hadn't believed that, especially on the 1st and 15th of every month, I would've long ago suffered a breakdown. Instead, there is Christmas 365 days a year - a wonderful holiday that allows me to write a check when the house note is due. With every bill we've managed to pay over the past 700 days, more Christmas cheer has warmed our snow globe.
Along the Yuletide journey, there were countless trips to Albertson's with carefully clipped coupons, word from the dentist that our younger boy will need braces, higher insurance premiums for a teen driver, and fewer trips to the mall for expensive clothes and salon manicures. Choices are those necessary things you make to preserve and protect dreams, including the one that I would find an agent and publisher for my book and still provide for a loving family without the traditional job I had depended on for 20 years. All our needs were supplied, and then some.
After a few weeks of unemployment, former colleagues and friends stopped returning my phone calls. It hurt to think that they could believe I was desperate for a loan or pity. Sometimes, all I wanted was to communicate with another human being - not by fax, not by e-mail - just to hear their voices. These days, I can go all day, and the phone doesn't ring one single time. Thankfully, the endless Christmas provided a simple covenant - even when I was lonely, I was never alone. So I kept writing.
An aforementioned associate has a million dollars safely tucked away in select investments, yet she is void of any personal peace. Never once did she even offer us a can of beans. I wouldn't trade places with the woman for 10 times what all her money has accrued. Such a person can never guess the source of my wealth and strength - Christmas, more than 700 straight days.
It's ironic that luxuries are barely missed. Christmas, for the past 24 months, has always arrived at the dawn, appeared with food on the breakfast table, walked and moved in the necessities of new school clothes and shoes for two amazing children, and disguised itself as small deposits of cash earned for true lessons from the tip of an ink-less pen. I am thankful to be a writer. Christmas has been a series of blessings that have forced me to recognize and embrace the value of heightened integrity and personal investment.
For many years, my career meant I was never home in the afternoons. But the Lord himself must've delivered me to my babies. We eat out less; there is more time to cook. I am so grateful for the opportunity to do homework face to face, bake cookies, and have long philosophical chats with my sons - more than 700 days of Christmas conversations on peace, the meaning of life, and what is expected of them on their entry into a world without protective parents.
As the words "Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men" resound, I celebrate wise men who understand the beauty of purple flowers and majestic blue-canvas skies, splashed with strawberry sunsets. I celebrate humble gifts: food to nourish our bodies and true friends to nourish our souls. Each night when I tiptoe down the hall to peek in on my baby, it is Christmas all over again as I see the outline of my own youthful slumber. These 700 days of Christmas would never fit under a tree.
Consider the message of sustenance, that Christmas is not only in the giving, it is in the living. Everyday. Somewhere it is written that those who have been given much, of them much shall be required.
I owe a great debt then, and am deliriously happy to pay up.
Joyce King is a freelance writer.