People are especially generous during the holidays. I know this from being on both the giving and the receiving end. Ten years ago I left active duty to begin graduate studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. That November we had our fourth child, Mark, and were living in a tiny, two-bedroom apartment on campus. Money was tight, very tight, and we didn’t know how we would scrape together enough for a Christmas dinner, much less presents.
A social worker at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, where our son Mark was born, asked us if we would allow them to sponsor our family for Christmas. Although it was the first time we were on the receiving end of charity, I didn’t feel any shame or embarrassment, as I thought I might, only a deep sense of gratitude. The good people who work at Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital, the branch closest to the university, brought piles of toys and goodies on Christmas Eve—so much, in fact, that our little living room was overwhelmed. Our hearts were too. Not only did they bring enough Christmas cheer to set our tiny tots’ eyes aglow, but they also gave us $500 in gift cards from local stores. I still think back on this outpouring generosity with thankfulness a decade later.
This year, when so many are struggling, I am again marveling at how much I have to be thankful for. Not only do I have a good job doing something I love (teaching), but our family is getting something we did not expect—housing on the campus of the Naval Academy, affectionately known as “The Yard.” And not just any housing. After Christmas we’re moving into quarters normally reserved for “key and essential” personnel. (I’m neither key nor essential, but I am a commander with four kids still at home.) To say the home is nice would be an understatement. It’s a newly renovated, historic home with six bedrooms, three floors, two staircases, and a kitchen that would make Mario Batali proud. (It’s going to be sparsely furnished for a while, since only five months ago we were living in a 1,400 square foot apartment in Alexandria, VA.) Our new home overlooks College Creek where the crew teams practice rowing, and my office in Sampson Hall is just 200 yards from our front door. You could say we’re moving into the ultimate gated community.
While I’m deeply grateful for all the material blessings I have been given (and I know I have a lot more than most), I realize these things are nothing compared with the intangibles of family, health, and most of all, the love of God in Christ, whose birth we Christians celebrate this time of year. Merry Christmas!