They’re out there…and I ain’t talking about zombies

The year was 1986. I had moved to Mason City for a promotion directly out of college and was working as an assistant manager of a drug store. The week before Christmas I came down with some sort of intestinal infection that was, to put it politely, awful. I couldn’t work so I missed being around my coworkers. Long story short, I couldn’t go home for Christmas either. “Home” for me then was a five-hour drive. Family. Friends. Five hours away. I was sick. I was lonely. I wasn’t going home. Christmas had always been a several day celebration of family, love, food, laughter and most importantly…the birth of Jesus Christ (who happens to be my Savior…shameless plug). But Christmas ’86 was going to be different…I was going it alone. My parents managed a quick trip up to see me prior to Christmas, but it was quite quick as they did the whole trip in one day. It was good to see them.

I distinctly remember Christmas Eve that night. I watched the dinner time news (all the talk was of Christmas events…go figure). The TV shows were (surprise) Christmas shows. I turned the TV off, and took a look outside my apartment window and saw….multicolored Christmas lights glistening off of a blanket of new fallen snow (no lying…north-central Iowa gets snow early and often). I heard church bells ringing as Christmas Eve services started and ended. It was awful. I was so alone. I went to bed early…I couldn’t take the depressing heaviness on my heart any longer. Dear God…so alone and sad. Thankfully…I fell asleep quickly.

Christmas Day broke bright and clear. My boss at the time, Bill, had invited me over to his home for Christmas dinner with his family. Seeing as how I was desperate to get out of the apartment and I was at the tail end of my ailment (no pun intended) I gladly accepted his invitation. Bill was no angel. Bill swore like a sailor and had an excellent catalog of R & X rated jokes. He had a laugh that was infectious and taught me more about how to be a good boss than any college course could have. Bill was compassionate….to a fault and he took this stray in for the day on Christmas Day in ’86. It “saved” me from another horriably depressing day of loneliness. I’ve thanked him several times for this act of kindness.

Fast forward to the Christmas season of 2004. I was working with a bunch of young guys (in their late twenties, me in my thirties) when the loudmouth of the bunch, Chris told us that his wife wanted a divorce and that she already had a boyfriend. Chris literally worshipped his wife and their little girl. The result was Chris going off of the deep end. He shaved his head. He sowed his wild oats every weekend and regaled us with his exploits on Mondays. He drank heavily and would call anyone of his coworkers and talk nonstop in his drunken stupor. It was horrible, and Christmas was coming.

I approached my wife Connie with the idea of inviting Chris over for Christmas Day dinner. She didn’t balk, she understood. Christmas isn’t meant to be spent alone, its about Love. When I invited Chris, he stopped dead in his tracks and replied in a quiet tone “…did you run this past your wife?” When he was sure that I had he jumped on the invitation. It was like we might have just invited Andrew Dice Clay to our Ripley Christmas.

Christmas Day Chris showed up at precisely eleven o’clock, one hour prior to dinner. He gave Connie a quick peck on the cheek and handed her a bottle of wine that she could enjoy later. I introduced him to my parents, my brothers and their families and let the “chips fall where they may.” Chris was charming. Chris was polite. Chris was engaging and a great conversationalist. Chris went out of his way to be the perfect guest. Dinner came and went and more conversation ensued. Then dessert and Chris left, he wanted to call his family in Ohio and see how things were going out there. It. Went. Perfect. I don’t think anyone at work ever knew of Chris coming over to our home for Christmas…I didn’t speak of it and neither did he except for a quick “thank you for yesterday” the next day at work.

I don’t write of this to boast of our families generosity, we’ve been abundantly blessed. Over and over and over. I write of this to encourage you to open your eyes and hearts to those among us that might be hurting this holiday season. With so much hurt in this world…do something that will make God smile and lessen the loneliness of those in our midst.

May our good and gracious Lord bless and keep you and yours this holiday season.


13 thoughts on “They’re out there…and I ain’t talking about zombies

  1. You. Paid. It. Forward. Well done.

    This was a beautifully, well-written post, RR. You had me feeling that lonely ache of a Christmas alone (done it), the gratitude at being included (done it) and the sheer joy of being able to see the need and fill it (done it).

    THIS is what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown,


  2. Thank you Marilyn. As I thought a little more about this blog I remembered a Christmas Day in the early 70’s where Grandma Ripley had invited an elderly neighbor to our Ripley Christmas. His joy was apparent at being included in a houseful of kids, presents, friends and love. Strange….what you remember as an adult from your childhood. Unintended lesson learned from Grandma Ripley…official cookie baker, Walleye catcher and Grandpa’s copilot.

  3. Pingback: See the need | Emjayandthem's Blog

  4. I’ve come over from MJ’s blog and REALLY appreciate your holiday post! She’s right–you have PAID IT FORWARD. Love your heart and your sharing. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

    Hugs from Ecuador,

  5. I, too, am visiting from MJ’s blog ( absolutely LOVE her!). This is such a wonderful lesson to all of us as the holidays are approaching. You certainly paid that act of kindess forward. Hopefully, we’ll all be on the lookout for opportunities to help those who are TRULY less fortunate.

  6. I came over by way of MJ’s blog. This is a beautiful story and a timely reminder about what this time of year … really, every day …. should be all about. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for anyone who might welcome a Christmas invitation.

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