Sacred Moments at the Annual Work Christmas Party

The Annual Work Christmas Party. Most people are familiar with this tradition. I do not actually have a “workplace”, but every year I dutifully trot out with my husband to his work party. For me, it is a foray into a strange world that I rarely interact with. Honestly, I’m usually a bit tense when I go. I am pretty sure that I am the only stay-at-home mom who attends these things and I admit to feeling a bit insecure. Especially the time, 2 years ago, when I attended and was 9 months pregnant. I endured all kinds of comments (because everyone knows that we have a large family). OH MY GOD! ….YOU ARE SO BIG!… I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU GOT PREGNANT AGAIN!… WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO STOP?? ..It was so much fun…Not. That, combined with the fact that they set up the party space with stand up tables and a dance floor and no chairs in sight, made it a rather long evening.

So, here we go again. It’s the one time of the year when I have to find something dressier than blue jeans and a sweater. I actually think I would enjoy the party a lot more if it was just my husband’s construction company. But, Andy’s boss, a well-to-do Englishman who develops property for the fun of it, as he is well past retirement age, is married to an equally successful business woman, Ms Patricia Nash, and the two of them decided some time back to combine their businesses Christmas Parties into one Big Party. So, we have a bunch of construction guys and then we have a bunch of fashion designers. It makes for an interesting party. Mostly the construction guys all hang out on one side of the room while the fashion designers hang out on the other side of the room and the bosses and managers try to circulate among everyone and break the ice.

The bosses are actually very nice people, very down to earth. Mr. Nash has no problem chatting it up  with Ronnie, a homeless guy my husband employed 5 years ago who has managed to keep his job and achieve some stability all this time, and Ms Patricia walks around dispensing hugs and air kisses to all and sundry. There is an open bar, a raffle, good food, and lots of dancing. Mr and Mrs Nash always make a point to get out on the dance floor, looking very cute together, and then try their best to entice the wallflowers to come join them. I try to make the wives and dates of the construction guys feel welcome and we stand and talk about kids, and teens, and work, and getting ready for Christmas.

So, last night proceeded as usual. Several people got amazingly drunk very early on in the party. As I watched the secretary being dragged out on the dance floor by her friends, and watched as the combination of drunkenness, spike heels, and attempting to dance, made her fall not once but twice, I couldn’t help thinking that she might do with some better friends. I watched as the young couples from the fashion design section got out and danced, some of them really good dancers, and then watched as the younger ones would video themselves dancing and then stand off to the side to watch a rerun of their dance, and then quickly upload it to social media. The music was so loud that the only way you could have a conversation was if you were speaking into someone’s ear.

Frankly I felt very out of place and wondered how long we had to stay. Andy and I had found one little bench pushed off to the side and we were sitting there watching the dancing when Ms. Nash came and sat down beside us. She started saying how much she admired me and the fact that I was raising 10 kids and how amazing it was that Andy and I were able to have a good marriage and work together in raising our family. And then she asked if we would share why we had decided to have so many kids. So I told her about how we had decided to let God be in charge of our family size and how, as we had more kids, we realized that we really enjoyed having a large family. It was a bizarre conversation to be having in this setting, shouting over the music. The Nashes finally took their leave of us, expressing genuine fondness for my husband and I. One of Andy’s coworkers finally persuaded us to take the dance floor for a while. We eventually checked the time and decided we had done our duty and could leave.

As we drove home I thought about the party. Definitely not my style. Not my comfort zone either. But it had been a good party. Even now, I am trying to pinpoint what made it good? A bunch of people who had very little in common all got together in one space and made an effort to be friendly to each other. People from a very wide range of social and economic statuses all joined together in one room to celebrate together. In this crazy world where we, as Christians, tend to compartmentalize our lives into “sacred” and “secular”, I can’t help thinking that sacred seems to have a way of showing up in the most secular settings. I think about my husband’s crew. Ronnie who got a second chance and has been succeeding. Then there’s the young man who somehow managed to get through a court-appointed rehab program and not only stuck it out, but has managed to stay clean for 3 plus years. He and his wife won the raffle and walked away with a nice Christmas bonus and I was so happy they won, knowing it was going to make their Christmas a lot more cheerful for them and their kids. Then there was the young couple who moved down to Knoxville together. She’s working, he’s in law school. They were talking about how they would be traveling around trying to see all their extended families for the holidays. There was my husband’s assistant showing pictures of his newest grandbaby on his phone. And the wife of one of the crew leaders telling me about her challenges with her teenage boy, same age as my boy. People. It was an evening of seeing people, getting glimpses into their lives. “Who is my neighbor?” These people. They are my neighbor. For some reason God said that loving him and then loving these people, that was the most important thing. And really, any time we have an opportunity to get a peek into someone’s life, it’s a sacred moment. Because as we peek into their lives, they become more real to us, less strangers, more neighbors, and it becomes easier to care about them, to feel an interest in their life. To pray for them, reach out to them. Share love. Yes. The Annual Work Christmas Party, a sacred moment.

No Politics at the Dollar Store

I ran down to the Family Dollar Store, just a block away. We needed tape. My younger kids and I had just spent a happy hour cutting out snowflakes and we were now going to tape them all over our kitchen and their bedrooms. We love decorating for Christmas. Once we get started, it’s hard to stop.

I went into the store, stepping around the puddles that dotted the pavement. It was an unseasonably warm, wet December day. I grabbed a shopping basket and quickly got the tape, plus some treats that I would pass out for our daily advent readings. Some LifeSavers for the day we discussed rings and how Jesus is the Bridegroom of the church. Some candy canes for the day we discussed how Jesus was the Good Shepherd. I also got some candles to keep up the festive atmosphere I love to create during the Christmas Season.

Finally done with filling my basket, I went and got in line. There was only one line open, but only a couple customers in front of me. I started daydreaming as I casually watched the people around me. I found myself a bit curious about the two people in front of me. They were obviously together. Latino. He looked like he was in his early 20s, clean cut, quiet. She had long, thick black hair, maybe 10 or 11 years old. They moved up to the register and he put his purchase on the counter, a big jug of laundry detergent. The girl quickly laid a lollipop next to it. It reminded me of outings with my parents when I was a child, “One piece of candy…please??”

The lady at the register was a friendly girl. Pure country accent, messy blond ponytail, friendly smile. She looked like she’d been working for a while, her eyes tired. She rang up their purchases and then told him how much it was. He hesitated a moment and then pulled out a card and stuck it into the slot of the card machine. Apparently there was an error. He continued to try and stick his card in, nothing changed. I wondered if his card had been denied. It happens. It’s happened to me. I was preparing for an awkward encounter. The clerk leaned over the counter to see what the display was saying. Her face brightened up. “Oh! Look, you have to swipe that one.” The man stared at her blankly. “Swipe it! Swipe it!” She made a movement with her hand and his face showed comprehension. He swiped his card, a visa gift card with the activation sticker still on it, and it worked. Hurray! The screen continued to ask him questions and he hesitated again. The clerk leaned over and read the screen out loud. “Pin, enter your pin.” The man’s companion spoke up in rapid Spanish. The man slightly nodded and started entering in a number. Ah. He didn’t speak English. Obviously none at all since he was struggling even with purchasing something at a store. I had a quick flashback to the first time I went to Chile when I was 20.  I spoke no Spanish. None. Zip. Zero. Not even a high school Spanish class. I remembered the panic of trying to do simple purchases and hoping the person would just take my money, give me correct change and not ask me any questions. Now, watching this man, I felt myself tense up. Maybe I could help if he needed it. I had managed to pick up a little Spanish during my time in Chile. Enough to at least help out with a purchase if necessary. The clerk had picked up on his lack of English by now, and started saying things slowly and repeating herself. Giving encouraging smiles. The little girl interjected a quick comment every once in a while, giving me the impression that she was interpreting for him. Not surprising. Kids always pick up languages faster than the adults. She probably benefited greatly from being in school every day, whereas the grownups could hang out and work with fellow Spanish speakers and not have near as much pressure or opportunity to learn a new language.

Finally the sale was finished successfully. The clerk grinned really big, wishing them a good evening. I smiled, happy that it had all ended well. I paid for my stuff and left the store. I had felt a moment of connection. Strangers in a store, all poised to help the foreigner, wishing him well. And I hoped that maybe this really is the normal for our country. We see a stranger, a foreigner, struggling to make it in a new country. We don’t ask about their immigration status, country of origin, income level. We just step in and see if we can help somehow.

Sure, when we’re on Facebook, we have to raise all the questions. We have to choose our news channels with care. We have to speak up about our views on immigration and foreigners and people who don’t speak English. We have to contact our congressman to tell them our views in hopes that they will align their policy with our wishes. We have to write editorials and engage in online debates. I am not being facetious. Yes. We do need to do all these things. We live in a democracy where our voice is supposed to matter. We are supposed to take a part in our government. But do we let our politics dictate our behavior when we’re down at the store? Or do we let our religion have preference. That religion that says, Love your neighbor as yourself. And when questioned “Who is my neighbor?” the story was told of a foreigner who befriended a stranger, an enemy of sorts, simply because he was in need.

I am an optimist. I like to look for the good in people. I like to presume that my friends who are very concerned about our current illegal alien issues, that they are still ready to help when they meet someone face-to-face. They’re still willing to lend a helping hand. And I sincerely hope that all my friends who are so passionate for open borders, I hope that this passion translates into helping the foreigners in their midst, not just talking about it.

It’s a good way to start the Christmas Season. Let’s be ready to help whoever we see in need. Maybe, we can just leave the politics for social media.