Recently, police officers have become targets of hatred, assaults and even deadly violence. Right now is a perfect time to stop and reflect on the many ways in which police officers and other first responders such as firefighters and EMTs give up their holidays so that we can enjoy ours in safety. Many officers also go above and beyond the call of duty by performing incredible volunteer work. One of those was a listener of mine named Randy, a retired police sergeant from Wyoming. He shared a memory of a time when playing Santa Claus should have come with hazardous duty pay.
"For many years, it was my distinct pleasure to assume the role of 'real Santa' at Christmas time. Though my sleigh was still a black and white sedan, my uniform changed from dark blues to a genuine Santa suit. I appeared on Christmas Eve, right at bedtime, delivering toys to needy children as well as my fellow officers…who had small children. What made this all work was the 'understanding' of the parents to make sure the kids were close to the front window upon my arrival, that they were not allowed out on the porch (where I left their gifts) until I was out of sight, and under NO circumstances were any pets to be loose.
All the parents were following Santa's instructions to the letter...until I got to my Chief's house. I gently placed (his sons') gifts on the porch (and) began to shake the bells, anticipating three squashed, tiny faces peering into the frosty night, trying to catch a glimpse of Santa. To my surprise...No faces. I shook the bells harder and added a hearty ‘HO, HO, HO!’ Still, no faces.
Now in mid-‘HO,’ I heard the front door open and a small dog barking. 'For cryin' out loud,' I muttered, as I jumped toward the driveway. If only I'd remembered the small wire fence surrounding his wife's flower bed. There was no time to pick myself up, as I heard high-pitched giggles floating on the cold night air. A quick double combat roll placed me out of innocent eyes' way, underneath my boss's pickup truck."
Then Randy heard a noise that seemed to be very close: "I smelled the dog food on his breath a scant millisecond before he yapped out the alarm. The 'WHOA!' that jumped from my lips was cut painfully short as I rammed my head into the pickup's driveline... The thought crossed my mind to reach out and pinch off his little windpipe, but that seemed a bit ugly for Christmas Eve."
A pair of cowboy boots suddenly replaced the dog: "I recognized my boss's voice as the words, 'Merry Christmas, heh, heh, heh," settled onto the cold concrete... 'Merry Christmas, Chief,' I replied as a solitary drop of black engine oil struck me dead center in the forehead. 'THANKS FOR NOT TURNING ON THE PORCH LIGHT!'
I continued on my rounds, a black greasy racing stripe running from my white curly beard to my belt, a well-lubricated lump on my forehead. I finished just as a soft snow began to fall, covering everything in a glistening blanket of white. It seemed the perfect punctuation mark to end another Christmas on Patrol."
Thanks again for that great story, Randy. And thanks to all the police officers and other first responders and military members who go above and beyond, and sometimes even roll underneath, to keep us all safe during the holidays and all year ‘round.
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One thing we all learned from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is that it’s not how fancy your tree is that matters, it’s the love it represents. A radio listener of mine named Vicky from California sent me a beautiful story that illustrated that as well as Charles M. Schulz did.
Vicky recalled a time years before, when her young family was desperately poor and struggling to provide Christmas for their three small children. Her husband brought home a tree, but was so exhausted after working 14 hours, he hadn't noticed it was dead and brown on one side.
A neighbor tried to help by giving them a little 18-inch, lighted tabletop tree. Vickie thought it was so small and ugly, she began to cry at the thought that this shrunken thing would be their family's tree. Just then, her little daughter began to cry, too, and hugged her. But she was crying for a very different reason.
The little girl said in awe, “That is the most beautiful tree I have ever seen. Do we really get to have that as our tree this year?"
Vicki wrote, “I had a permanent attitude change. That night, I couldn't stop thanking our Heavenly Father enough for His blessings.”
So you see, it’s true: A little child shall lead them.
On Christmas, we celebrate the birth of the One who told us, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” But on holidays like this that emphasize parties and socializing, many people feel lonely or abandoned. They may not realize how many people around them really do care about them.
Linda from North Carolina wrote:
"Several years ago, we had a family up the hill who were having a very rough time. They had broken glass in their windows, no heat and no prospects for a nice Christmas.
We got neighbors together and one day when they were gone, the men went up and put in new glass, bought heaters and warmed up their trailer and went to get them a Christmas tree. The ladies and kids made ornaments, went to stores and got donations of toys and clothing, food and electric blankets. We all met at the trailer, cooked, decorated, put up the tree, wrapped packages, and made beds with the new blankets then went to our home to wait for them to return.
A while later, the family came running down the hill in the snow and flew into our house, trying to tell us through tears what someone had done. The mother couldn't believe that so many people cared about them. She didn't realize it, but being able to do that for them made Christmas very special for all of us.”
Thank you, Linda, for that perfect story to remind us that the gifts that give us the most satisfaction aren’t those we get, but the ones we give to others.