Christmas [In July]

Folks,

I’ll admit I was racking my brain for what to write about this month. I thought about just letting this one slide by and making up for it with two posts in August. I came up with a few ideas yesterday… one about my love of reading and the books I am currently obsessed with, another about the conferences going on this summer in Montreat. I just couldn’t get myself to sit down and process either of those. Then, today at work, LIFE hit me square in the face.

It was a quiet moment in the store, a rarity during the mornings of youth conferences when hundreds of teens stream in to get their t-shirts and Cheerwine. In the midst of my own to-do list of cooking, cleaning, packing, forms, classes, and the line of customers waiting to purchase their items, my thoughts were interrupted by a pair of earrings sliding across the counter.

I reached for a box to put them in and the customer said, “Oh, I don’t need a box, I’ll wear them out!”

I said, “Alright, that’s good with me! Your total is $36.38.”

I swiped her card, and as I waited for the receipt to print, she said through tears, “They remind me of my son. He always loved calla lillies.” Then, as if realizing she was talking out loud, she said, “I lost him recently.” More tears.

I was dumb-founded. Asking her to sign the receipt seemed trivial. I didn’t know what to say. This wasn’t the funeral home. This wasn’t a pre-packaged environment where sadness and tears and death were expected; the norm. There wasn’t a box of Kleenexes within arm’s length and there weren’t any flowers to move around for the hundredth time.

There was only me. And her. And her grief. Suddenly, the three of us seemed to be taking up too much room so I stepped back a step and said the only thing I could think of, “How old was he?”

“25,” she said.

“Wow,” I said solemnly. “Well, I’m sure he would have loved to see you wear these.”

She removed the earrings from the paper card they were on and I held the pieces in my hand as she slowly and deliberately swapped old for new. I smiled and she smiled and she took a deep breath and walked away to join her friends.

It bothered me–that space between the “Wow.” and the “Well.” That space in my thoughts that said, “How, when, where, why?” “WHY?” I wanted to know everything and I wanted to know nothing. I wanted to hear her story and not have to hear her pain. But, then, the two are inseparable. So it goes in life. So it goes with our faith stories and our loss-of-faith stories, our love stories and our loss-of-love stories. And no, this post really isn’t about Christmas [in July] or Christmas at all. Except for the truth of the One incarnate, the One who came so that our tears and our grief and our pain will be no more. Praise be to God.

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