She ducks under the canopy of the building's arching doorway, breathing a sigh of relief. Driving rain pelts the roof above her as she brushes the drops from her coat. Why I would pick a place like Oregon in the last week of December – I have no idea!
But anywhere is better than home.
In her mind's eye she can see them gathering in the living room tonight, chatting about this and that, eating ham and scalloped potatoes, fudge and sugar cookies. Admiring the ornaments on the tree, singing carols around the piano, with the children running about as they impatiently wait for the Christmas story and their chance to open presents.
Not a soul will worry about the black sheep of the family.
This particular sheep will eat her frozen dinner in her drafty apartment, casually read through the magazine she picked up from the grocery store, and tuck herself under the covers, alone once again.
This morning he had left her, “Finally!” he said this time. This time, no red-rimmed eyes and tear-stained cheeks darken her face. No longer will she let emotions or hopelessness drag her into the depths of despair. She simply feels empty - void of emotion, void of hope.
There's no 'season of hope' for me this Christmas. There's not even a 'home for Christmas' for me. No one cares.
The lady at the front desk smiles at her, but she passes on without response. It's her job to smile.
The neighbors two doors down see her fumbling with keys in the hall and wish her a “Merry Christmas!” but her curt “Thank-you” silences any further conversation. I'm sure they mean well. I just don't see a need to make a big deal out of it.
No surprise to find a pile of junk mail on the floor behind the door, and the answering machine sitting silently on the counter. She collapses into the loveseat with exhaustion after the busy day at work. No cards, no packages, no messages. It's just as well; if anyone deserves to go unnoticed, it's me.
But quarter to eleven that evening finds her weeping softly in the dark living room, unmoved since first sitting down.
The soft ringing of bells drifts through the cracks in the rickety window. The church on the corner.
She knows they have an eleven o'clock Christmas Eve service. She has no reason to go. Of all the people in her life, she avoids Him the most. And for good reason – from the straight and narrow she has strayed innumerable times.
Yet something draws her to the ringing bells. Perhaps reflecting on pleasant memories from Christmas past, perhaps a need for something other than sitting in the darkened room, perhaps even her desperate loneliness. Something drives her to put on her jacket, slip out the back stairs, and step through puddles and the constant rain to the church on the corner.
She stares at the ancient doors, the crack in between glowing with the light of a thousand candles. Music floats in the air, one hundred voices in harmony. She pauses, hesitating. Haven't I blown all my chances?
But she has come this far, and returning to the lonely apartment weighs heavier on her than the idea of pressing through.
No disappointment greets her when she opens the door. Instead, a deep feeling of warmth – cheer, perhaps? – permeates her hungry soul. A massive organ pipes out the Christmas carol as the choir sings along. The harmonious melody washes over her, and without a second thought she softly joins in the chorus, “O come, let us adore Him!”
Gentle smiles radiate from the people in the pews, but she focuses her gaze on the center aisle. She walks slowly to the front of the church and takes a candle to light it. Once more, the hesitation threatens to pull her away, but this time she will not stop. I'm so tired of running.
She whispers, “God, can you take me back? Please?”
No answer booms out of the sky, but a gentle peace descends to her spirit. Calmly she lights the candle, places it in the center of the altar, and kneels down.
Perhaps she kneels for a minute, perhaps for an hour. Yet as she kneels, the healing comes, the loneliness fades.
And when she rises, she is home for Christmas.
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