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Christmas Break – in more ways than one.

December 20, 2017


I am sitting here in the quiet of my classroom, readying myself for our last day of exams.  I am dressed for the occasion:  blue jeans, black shirt and red Christmas tie – hey, I am a trend-setter when it comes to seasonal wear.

I am tired but happy.  This has been a good semester.  A number of students have really taken to the task in not only studying the Bible but really, really digging into the Scripture;   I will tell you more about that in another blog.  We are all a bit worn out, so the final bell today will be a welcome one.

To teachers, this week of finals is an oddish type of week.  We don’t really have the hyperactivity of in-class teaching, but we do face the daunting task of grading a massive load of paperwork before the Christmas break starts.  We proctor classrooms and we oversee hallways in these final hours before the campus mayhem erupts.

Because it’s going to be Christmas break.

Ah, yes, Christmas break.

For educators, Christmas vacation is a time of relaxation and gathering with the family, friends from church, acquaintances from the neighborhood, and other folks we haven’t had the time to enjoy because of the work schedule we handle.

It’s Christmas break and it’s very, very nice for us. In fact, one of the great perks in teaching is the vacation times.  Years back I stepped away from the classroom and ventured into the corporate world – I truly had a problem with it.  One of the things that grated most on me was the lack of vacations that spoiled me when I was a teacher; in the corporate world it seemed like we were tossed a few half-days around a holiday and wham, we’re back on the job before we can even digest and nap.   Teachers get a nice break.  A nice relaxing break.

Well, except for me.

Oh, I’m not talking about having to do work during the vacation; rather, the Christmas break never seems to work out as quietly as I planned.  Something unexpected seems to climb into those days that I have preciously set aside for, well, planned boredom.  There are stretches when I want to just stare at the wall and hum.  Or sleep.

Never works out that way, brother.

There was the time I caught the flu.  I was vomiting so hard I thought I tore out my optic nerves.

Then there was the time that our heat went out in our house.  We looked very similar to the Nativity story:  all wrapped in swaddling clothes.

Once someone tried to break into our house.  It was a well-meaning wealthy elderly member of our church who nevertheless thought it was okay to try to break into our home and leave a present.  Why he thought this was okay, I will never know.  Oh, and the present?  A used, oversized framed reprint of a sailing boat sitting on still waters – the kind of reprint where they make the waves bumpy so you can feel the texture on the canvas.  And the painting still had dust on it.

The most memorable Christmas vacation for me, though, was when we all decided to entertain our then-preschool Julianne with “a visit from Saint Nicholas.”

We had been continuing a family tradition that started when our eldest son Nicholas was in kindergarten.  Around the late evening of Christmas Eve, I would go out and heave a basketball on top of the roof and jingle my keys next to the bedroom window, simulating Santa’s landing on the rooftop with his reindeer.  The bouncing and jingling had its effect;  Nicholas almost passed out from giddiness.  It went over so well, in fact, that we did it each year for a good long stretch.  Peter was just as enthralled as Nicholas whenever he heard the boomp-boomp above and the ringringjingle outside his window.

When little Julie hit the preschool age, sixteen-year old Peter decided he would step up from the deck railing, scramble onto the roof and walk around with a jingle and a “ho ho ho.”  Out neighborhood was dark and we had no excessive outdoor lights so it would work perfectly; she’d never see his exit.  All he needed to do was to slip back down on the highest railing.

Oh, no, not Peter.  He began dancing around on the roof and moved around all over the top of the house.  This was supposed to be a twenty-second affair and it was now going on for well over a minute.  I pulled on my slippers and stepped outside to see why this kid wouldn’t get down and steal away in the darkness so we could pull off the ruse.

We waited and waited, but we could detect no noise.  As Nicholas  came through the doorway and looked at me, we heard a loud CRASH on the back side of the house.

“Peter’s slipped,”  I said and we darted around to the rear of the house.  The backyard light had gone out the week before and the darkness made it hard to find him.  He was somewhere around but as we looked about the yard we couldn’t see him.  Nicholas ran up to me.  “I don’t see him in any of the bushes,” he said.

“You go that way and search the side yard,” I said as I started into a sprint.  “I will try the side hill.”  I took off in a maddening dash in the darkness.

And ran right into a boulder.

More specifically, I kicked an ornamental boulder.

It was ornamental.  But it was a boulder.

And I kicked it with all of my might.  Specifically, my left big toe smashed into it on a full run.  I want you to imagine that you are going to try to kick a thirty-yard field goal but you kick a two hundred pound rock instead.  In your slippers.

I heard the crunch and immediately collapsed to the ground.  The pain was excruciating.  Fireworks exploded in my foot and ran up through my back.  I fell to all fours,  moaning and immobile.

Nicholas ran over to help.  Peter came out of the shadows – he was unhurt.  He had leaped onto the deck clumsily and flat-footed, hence the terrifying crashing sound.

I lay there sprawled and sure that my left toe was splintered.  I couldn’t even speak momentarily, the pain was so bad.  In the silence of the moment we heard only one sound.

My wife’s uncontrolled laughter above us.

“It sounded so funny in the dark, ” she choked out while leaning on the deck railing.  “You were calling out instructions in the dark  and all of a sudden you just yelled ‘oh, oh.”  She tried to stop giggling.

“Jill, I think I broke my toe.”

“Yes, and I am so sorry…”

But it was obvious to me that this model of Christian virtue was lying through her teeth.

I sit here today, some ten years later and I still feel the throbbing in that toe every day.  It was not broken, but the doctor said I had smashed the cartilage in the joint.  There is no operation to fix it, so I remain a person with one foot about a quarter-inch shorter than the other, if you count big-toe length.

And we have a wonderful family Christmas memory that brings joy to the household.

Well, to just one person.

Go ahead and ask my wife one time about it.

And watch her laugh.



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