A few weeks ago, our shelter’s assistant director was working up the schedule for the Christmas holidays. I told her to put me down for 11 pm to 7 am on Christmas Eve. It was absolutely the right thing for me to do, and directors absolutely should work staff’s shifts from time to time to keep in touch with what different staff do around the shelter. However, I was mad about it even though I volunteered to do so.
I wasn’t upset about working on a holiday. My mom has been a nurse for 45 years, and one of the most important things our family learned from her was flexibility regarding holidays. Plenty of people have to work on holidays, and we should all be grateful for it. I was upset because I was the logical person to work that shift because I would have been home alone anyway. My son usually has Christmas with me on the 24th, and after the Christmas Eve service at church, I take him to his dad’s to spend the night and be with his little brothers the next morning. This is a compromise I have come to live with and tolerate but do not like. In volunteering to work this one night, I was suddenly reminded that I wasn’t going to have a “traditional” Christmas, that I hadn’t in many years, and it just wasn’t fair. After boohooing about that for a while, I picked myself up and gave myself a little lecture about how pretty much no one has a “traditional” Christmas and that I serve lots of people right here in our shelter who long for a family and a peaceful life, something I have an abundance of.
I do have some degree of self-awareness and knew that once I got to the shelter, I would enjoy it. I had no idea that I would actually love it. We have an Hispanic family with us right now, and they like doing their celebration at midnight on Christmas Eve. The other two families decided to do the same. The living room was overflowing with paper; the kids were screaming; the adults were laughing. They were all kind enough to allow me into their family celebrations. I also am making a big breakfast for the morning, something I love to do and rarely have the opportunity for. I’m getting my traditional Christmas after all.
How could I have thought for a moment that I didn’t want to be here? What is the Christmas story about if not keeping the inn open and offering shelter to a mother and her newborn child? The ancient Greeks were known for their hospitality, but it was a tradition built around the idea that any stranger at the door could be a god or goddess disguised as a mortal, which the gods often did. Every culture has this story about the need to open the door to the stranger and the godliness in each passerby. Few people know better than I do the need to offer a safe harbor for families seeking a little peace and safety.
So here I am on Christmas, privileged to play shepherd to this flock who needed us to be here tonight. All is quiet, all has been merry, and for this one night at least, they all sleep in heavenly peace.