As Christmas of 2005 approached, we planned for something very special. We had laid out a new agenda and set things in motion. I desperately needed something beyond the usual routine holiday because the Christmas season would mark one year since my father’s death. The previous Christmas season, he had left us so quickly—surprised in the middle of the night by a massive heart attack—and a year later I was just now starting to feel strong again. I was worried that a normal routine Christmas would create too many memories that I would not be able to handle and my newfound strength would become undone, so we had decided for a change in plans.
My husband and I had wanted for years to participate in serving Christmas dinner at church. The elderly, low-income families, and the homeless came for the annual meal our church provided, but our family holiday routine had always prevented us from helping with the church dinner. This year would be different. We had finally signed up to celebrate Christmas by serving others. We would all go, including our five-year-old son. After all, here was the ideal event to model servanthood for him. My step-mom, dad’s widow, was also going with us. She had made a commitment to give her time and heart to others this holiday instead of dwelling on Dad’s passing.
Two days before Christmas, I was off work on holiday and was feverishly wrapping presents. I had sent my son off kindergarten where his class was having their holiday party. I had just finished wrapping the last present when the phone rang. It was my mother.
“Hi, what are you doing home?” she asked me.
“I have vacation for the two days before the Christmas weekend.”
“Well, you’ll never guess what I have,” she stated to me.
I was curious. “What?”
“What?!” I could hear the surprise in my own voice. “How did you get my son?”
She explained that they had called me at work only to find no one there, so they had turned to the other names on our son's emergency call list. She had received their call and gone to pick him up from school.
“Why did they call? Is he sick?”
“Not exactly,” she said. Then words that caught me completely off guard came across the phone line. “He’s got head lice.”
I gasped. I could immediately feel our special Christmas plans plunging into the abyss. “So he’s there with you?”
“Yes, you can come pick him up…before he infests my house.”
As I drove to my mother’s I could feel major disappointment setting in. I had wanted so much to do something special this year so that memories of Christmas’ past wouldn’t gang up on my fragile emotions. My hopes were fading.
When I picked up my son, he was busy playing hide and seek with my mother, who was nervously making sure his little head didn’t touch anything in the midst of the game. With child in tow, we made an immediate trip to the drugstore.
“I don’t want to go!” he wailed the whole way there from his booster seat in the back of the car. He associated any trip to the drug store with horrible tasting medicine. He refused to get out of the car and I couldn’t leave him alone in it. I finally had to bribe him into the drug store with me by promising him a candy bar.
At home, one shower and one lice treatment later, I was busy scouring the instructions on the lice treatment box and the Internet for information on how long we would be battling the infernal pests. To my delight, there was hope after all. Everything I read told me that it was possible to get rid of the little nasties if we acted quickly and that the treatment would kill off any living lice and eggs attached to my son’s head.
I gathered up all of the bedding in the house, all of the towels in the bathroom, all of my son’s clothes in his laundry hamper as well as his coat and hats, and I began to wash everything in hot water. I even washed the furry coverings and soft pads on my earmuffs because he had been playing with them two days ago. My husband arrived home from work in the midst of rinse cycle number three.
“What’s going on?” he asked. He knew I had just done laundry the last two days. The whole story tumbled out of my mouth like a flash flood in Spring. It overwhelmed my husband who had also been looking forward to serving at the church dinner.
“Don’t lose hope. We can still go,” I told him. I explained everything I had read about lice. Once the head is treated the lice and nits would be dead. We would simply have to try to clean up and kill any lice and nits still in the house to prevent a new infestation and make sure all of the nits were removed from our son's head. My husband was a trusting soul. He left me to my work and went to console our son, doing so from a safe distance.
For two days, I washed clothes, towels, bed clothes and anything else my son's head touched in hot water. For two days, I went through his hair with a nit comb over and over again. For good measure, we even retreated his hair with the lice treatment against the instructions on the box.
The day before Christmas, our family celebrated as though it was Christmas day. We read the Christmas story, opened presents and feasted on turkey and the trimmings. Family arrived all throughout the day bearing gifts, mostly for our son, and all went well. It was a nice day, but routine--the very thing we wanted to avoid, and my father's presence was strongly missed. There were moments throughout the day that my eyes filled with tears as I thought of him. We were happy to be anticipating a very different day
for the next day.
Christmas day dawned bright and beautiful. My husband, son, step-mother and myself arrived at the church eager to begin helping, but the number of volunteers available to help outnumbered the actual jobs. Volunteers were instructed to rotate in and out of the serving line so everyone would have opportunity to serve. There seemed to be no one in particular in charge of who should do what and chaos threatened to reign. My step-mother watched my son and mingled with guests until her turn to serve while my husband and I worked on the serving line. In spite of the excited anticipation we'd felt over the previous weeks, the day was not living up to our expectations.
We three adults rotated in and out of the serving line as we were able while our son helped each of us in turn. At one point, he stood my side, handing out dinner rolls, very grown-up for his five years, when the kitchen help came to put more green beans in the serving container beside him. Rather than lifting out the empty container and putting the full one in place, they attempted to pour the hot green beans into the empty container. Hot ham grease splashed up over the sides and onto my son's cheek and down his neck. I had seen it coming a second before and had tried to push him back out of the way before it hit him. Though moving him back had helped, it didn't save him entirely from getting burned.
A look of shock immediately came over his face. In panic, I bent down and blew into his face to keep him from passing out and I screamed at my husband to get cold wet clothes from the kitchen. Work around us stopped as everyone simply watched us administer first aid to our son's grease burns. In spite of what he must have been feeling, our son did not cry. His reaction frightened me. Fortunately, the cold compresses and some ice worked and his burns were mild.
Sitting at a table later, I held him close to me. As I cuddled him and whispered into his ears that it was okay to cry, nobody would make fun of him if he did, that everyone would understand, he finally let go of his tears. As he did, the shock of the afternoon seemed to leave him. He was angrier with me for having shoved him out of the way than he was at anything else.
I blamed myself for the disaster of the whole day. The idea of helping with the dinner had been a good one. It had seemed selfless on the surface, but in the end had really been done from selfish motives. I had wanted to do it for all the wrong reasons. I had wanted to avoid memories that I knew would be painful. If we hadn't decided to help that day, the accident with the grease wouldn't have happened.
Maybe you will think that I'm "nit-picking" (pardon the pun) when I say that perhaps God had allowed our boy to get the lice to keep us away from the dinner so I would face my inner turmoil. After all, God will not honor a charitable act when it's done for selfish purposes. I was the one who had interferred with His plan for selfish reasons. I have since learned to question my motives about nearly everything I do in the name of the Lord. My charitable act does not honor Him if my motive does not also honor Him and I can't avoid the lessons of life, such as grief and grieving, by hiding behind a charitable act. I'm wiser now for the experience and grateful for the growth it brought me. Who knew lice could be a good thing?
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