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Code to Zero
Ken Follett
(yes--FINALLY a new book!)


This is radio night:
Says You
Prairie Home Companion
Sound and Spirit

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Just say "No" to the Salvation Army.

For those masochistic enough to want to read the on-line version of my Christmas letter, you can find it here.

That's it for today!

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23 December 2001

Two years ago, as we sat around the Christmas tree looking at the pile of gaily wrapped packages and began to open each box to find out "what we got," Ned and Marta gave us the most special gift of all.

Marta took an envelope from the tree and opened it. It was a letter from the two of them and it talked about a story she'd read one time about an envelope which appeared mysteriously in a Christmas tree. When that envelope was opened on Christmas eve, it talked about how the writer realized that the family had so much and that there was so much need in the world, and so the writer had taken the money that would have been spent on gifts and instead had done something for a worthy cause. The act of the writer sparked the family and each year thereafter, there was a letter in the tree and everyone waited eagerly to find who had done what that year.

Marta always liked the story, and so, two years ago, our first without Paul, our fourth without David, when we were all feeling pretty un-jolly anyway, they decided to do something meaningful instead of just going out and buying things for the sake of buying things none of us really needed.

They heard about a high school which was trying to raise money for its band, which was without music stands. Ned and Marta, who obviously have a soft spot in their hearts for kids who are playing music, took their Christmas fund and bought music stands for the music department. They said that they hoped it would inspire others in the family to do the same thing.

Last year came and went without a letter in the tree. I suspect we had all forgotten.

This year, with the whole country still reeling from the post-traumatic effects of 9/11, it's been difficult to get into the whole spend-spend-spend mindset, despite the fact that our President tells us it's the patriotic thing to do. It bothers me--and others--that the focus is on personal spending when there are so many in need in this country. It seems to me that if "spending" is patriotic, an even more patriotic thing is to spend on people who don't have much.

So we've taken Ned and Marta up on their challenge. We adopted Priscilla and her family and yesterday I went to play Santa.

Priscilla has become a special of this journal and, as last year, several of you readers sent donations for her, one donation was particularly generous. With the donated money and what we added ourselves, I was able to bring her a trunkload of food and toys for the children, a gift for Priscilla, and money that will help her feed the kids until their mother is released from prison and they can go home--about January 7.

I had made arrangements with Priscilla to get the kids out of the house when I arrived. They were spending the afternoon with Priscilla's sister (the sister is a drug addict and totally irresponsible, so having the sister's help--which she refuses to give anyway--with the kids is out of the question, though she could take them for an hour or two).

Priscilla was two days out of surgery for her cancer. "They put my butt in a hole," she laughed with me when I spoke with her on the phone. It's amazing how she keeps her sense of humor despite the obvious intense pain she's experiencing. When I got to the house, she shuffled to the door, wincing all the way. She slowly led me into her kitchen, where she was in the middle of doing laundry for the kids. The dryer had died, so she was hanging clothes all over the house.

She didn't want me to have to carry the boxes from the car, so she insisted on carrying some (though I wouldn't let her carry them all). With each step she grimaced. When everything was in the house, she was exhausted and out of breath. She hugged me and thanked me over and over again and told me how Jesus had blessed her so much.

Then she began to cry and told me how much it hurt. "But I'm strong," she said, fighting back the tears, "and I'll beat this thing." She raised a fist in the air to accentuate the promise.

She couldn't stand or sit down, though she tried to do both. When she sat for a minute, it hurt so much she had to stand up, and when she stood up it hurt so much she had to sit down again. "I don't want to take the pain killers," she said. "It makes me too groggy to deal with the kids."

While we were standing in the kitchen, her drug-addicted brother came in. He's living there too. She thought he could help her put things away, but he decided to leave again. I offered to help her, but she said she didn't want me to have to work and she'd take care of it. Her pregnant niece was lying down in the back room, not wanting to get up to help Priscilla.

I asked her where everyone was sleeping. She says the kids are sleeping four or five to the bed, some at the foot of the bed and some at the head of the bed. The others are sleeping on the floor, Priscilla is sleeping on the couch, when she can sleep.

There is, of course, no tree, no decoration, little sign of the approaching holiday. That's the one thing I forgot to bring.

She didn't want me to go, but she was obviously in such pain and I knew that visiting with me was tiring her. "I'm so tired, Baby," she said. "Why am I so tired?" I told her that major surgery and taking care of a house full of people might have something to do with it.

"I'm going to make it," she said again. "God has blessed me and he's going to help me."

When the kids go home, she begins chemotherapy and radiation and she knows that's going to be difficult for her. "But I'll do what I have to do," she said. "I have too many people to take care of, and my Mama needs me."

When I left, she clung to me, cried, and thanked me again, over and over for everything I'd done to help the kids. I told her that a lot of people cared about her and wanted to help her have a better Christmas. She thanked me and told me to tell you all that she loves you and she thanks you so much.

Last year at this time I didn't think she'd be here this Christmas. This year she's even sicker, but her spirit is strong and she truly is blessed. Maybe she'll make it after all.

There is no doubt, however, that the donations have made a significant difference in the Christmas for this family. Without it, Christmas for those seven children would be just another day.

Thank you all, from me and from Priscilla. You're so very special. And thanks to Ned and Marta for reminding us what Christmas is really all about.

One Year Ago:
Santa Needs a New Elf

My tip of the week:
Go NOW to Pictures to EXE Presentations
and download some of the fantastic
slide shows which have been
uploaded.  You wont be sorry!

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