Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Christmas Cards (11/06/08)
TITLE: In Thy Dark Streets Shineth
By Kenneth Bridge
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The envelope was stock and bore a local postmark. His name and address appeared in block letters in blue ink. There was no return address. It was the only card he had received yet and this was Christmas Eve. Although disappointed, he understood that no one would yet have learned his new address. Other than immediate family he hadn’t bothered to tell anyone. Everything had been so sudden.
Thanksgiving dinner over, about to settle in for the second football game, he found his life turned upside down. “ I need to tell you,” she had said, “I’ve rented a new place for me and the children and closed the lease for this one on December 1st. You’ll need to find a new place to live.” With those matter of fact words, twelve years of marriage, eight years of Pastoral ministry, and all his hopes and dreams were blown to bits as if by some errant missile, or crushed under the weight of a toppling tractor trailer in some freak freeway accident.
She had occasionally complained, to be sure. And they’d visited counselors a few times. At other times she would wax rhapsodically about how blessed they were and how others envied them their happiness. He learned to discount her swinging hyperboles and settled in to a reasonable middle. Until that thankless Thanksgiving Day.
Now a month later, ensconced in a rented room, he hid from the glare of accusation that greeted him like too bright sunshine when he ventured out. Grocery shopping was painful, if occasionally necessary. Couples shopping together, children in grocery carts, families passing in cars, each a crushing drumbeat in a never ending crescendo of despair, bam! Loser; crash! Alone again; rat-a-tat: unfit for human habitat.
He’d resigned his church by letter and had been unable to find any place to worship in the neighboring city where he’d relocated. Not that he had any desire. He opened his Bible to find dry ink on paper. His eyes would scan over empty words without drawing in anything. He was drowning one moment, the next a fish gasping on dry land. He tried to pray, but the heavens were brass and sealed tight at ceiling level. Sleep brought tormenting dreams instead of comfortable oblivion, and was never enough to replenish his dwindling strength.
He’d managed to buy presents for the kids. After he finished wrapping them he put them on the table and sat and sobbed for hours, unable to banish images of them playing with their new toys in his absence. Taking a break, (from what?) he went out to check the mail and found, along with the requisite junk mail (he was appreciated by somebody!) this one card.
The card and envelope fit into the side pocket of his heavy coat. He patted it for reassurance as he stepped out the front door. It was dark and he felt something cold and wet on his cheek, refreshing after the scalding, salty tears that had so recently claimed that territory for their own. Against the streetlights he saw the softening edge of falling snow transforming their glare into something warm and inviting. Floating on the flurries the gentle, joyful notes of a familiar Christmas carol greeted his listening, suddenly hungry ears. Peaceful and profound, “yet in thy dark streets shineth, the everlasting light, the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight,” as the words flooded him with warmth, he felt a stirring of joy and hope for the first time in weeks.
As he strode past the store fronts, closing down their shops in anticipation of church services and family gatherings he noticed the twinkling lights, the train sets circling tracks around trees in store windows, and inhaled it all with a sudden, voracious hunger.
He climbed the steps of the old stone church on the corner, drawn by the light and warmth. “Merry Christmas, and richest blessings,” came the greeting.
“Yes, and wise men still seek Him,” he answered.
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