I got a Christmas e-letter on Wednesday from the McPhersons.It was a two-page, full-color PDF, laid out like a church bulletin or corporate annual report, studded with family photos and well wishes for the coming year. It was such a sweet letter. Just one thing wrong: I don't know the McPhersons. The trouble with electronic greetings — especially those sent en masse — is that it's pretty easy for them not to reach the intended recipients. The letter I got was meant for Pam Worthy, whose e-mail address supposedly differs from mine by a single character. But for some reason, it didn't make it to her and came to me instead.
Before I checked the distribution list, I read the entire letter, thinking the McPhersons were long-forgotten friends of my family, business colleagues from deep within the horticulture industry or among the thousands of people I follow on Twitter.
The wife and mother, editor and publisher of the McPherson annual update, is so proud of her family. Her husband just started working for a local nonprofit. They have two daughters, the oldest of whom suffers from a pretty severe disability. Mom's days are spent shuttling the daughter to and from doctor's appointments and therapy sessions. In one of the photos, their oldest daughter had just won a blue ribbon in an event at the Special Olympics and displayed it proudly as she leaned in for a celebratory kiss from her father. The younger daughter, with curly hair and glasses, smiled wide in another picture as she held a tiny baby bunny in the cupped palms of her hands. Another photo shows her dressed for Halloween as a cheerleader.
This family has its hands full; that much is clear from the letter. The sentences are short and each paragraph jumps to completely different aspect of life. Wife and mother seemed to have trouble picking which news to share from 2010, a year full of "blessings and challenges."
In my circle of friends, we half-jokingly complain about our semi-tragic first-world problems: Not being able to get a primo reservation at Girl & the Goat. The battery dying in our $400 smart phones. Agonizing over which color to pick for that spa manicure and pedicure. Gosh, life is hard!
The McPherson family's life is hard. I imagine that caring for their handicapped child affects absolutely every aspect of their lives. Money's probably tighter than they'd like. Husband and father's job as an addiction counselor must worry wife and mother every day as she hurries from place to place with daughters one and two. And yet? There's not even an inkling of negativity to be found in that letter. The McPhersons are deeply religious and thank God regularly — in every paragraph of that letter, actually, sometimes more — for all the blessings in their life. Husband and father is doing God's work in his new job. The Lord blessed them with a new van with a ramp to help get them around with a new wheelchair in tow. God has provided wonderful doctors, therapists and teachers.
The McPhersons' life seems to be all about those little blessings, those tiny miracles: Wife and mother would miss the weekly appointments if she suddenly didn't have to go to them anymore. Disabled daughter has learned to eat real food this year, and her little sister is delighted to be learning the names of the months. The girls fed a giraffe at the zoo.
Christmas at the McPhersons' is all about the miracle of Christ's birth, that much I can say for sure. For me, this holiday has never been about Jesus. It has always been about Santa. All about Santa. (And the occasional reindeer, and maybe Frosty.) And I've always been perfectly happy with that. I get pretty cynical about religion. And I flinched when I saw the Bible verse at the top of the McPhersons' annual update. But their profound faith seeped into every word of that letter. It made me warm.
Tomorrow, they'll go to church. They will have a quiet, peaceful day basking in the simple happiness of another year together. Husband and wife will settle in together, exhausted, in front of the fire, after another joyous Christmas with their two beautiful, special daughters.
Wife and mother will never make a video of her kids throwing a tantrum that they got books for Christmas. It will never go viral with more than 1.5 million views on YouTube. I sat by myself and laughed hysterically watching that video early this morning, shared it with my sister and snickered expectantly as she watched it for the first time. There's a particular holiday pleasure that goes with laughing at some spoiled, snot-nosed 3-year-old boy yelling "POOH!" at the top of his lungs.
But it's another thing entirely getting a glimpse into the cozy, complicated and wonderful life of a family that still seems to understand the meaning of Christmas. Because it can be pretty easy to lose sight of that in my life, over here with my first-world problems. With my laptop and smart phone and the piles of presents waiting to be torn into under the tree.
I love my life, and my family, and the way we celebrate the holidays. I do. My extended family will arrive in two hours for cocktails, a beautiful tenderloin that's been marinating since before I went to bed last night, and caroling by the fire with toy instruments bought for the occasion. We'll wake up in the morning and sit with our piles of presents, with our mimosas and breakfast casserole and festive holiday napkins, with Christmas music playing softly in the background, and enjoy one another in our own way. But when the inevitable Christmas Guilt kicks in, after the hypercaloric gorging and orgy of gifting, I may take a few quiet moments and say my own version of a prayer for the McPhersons. The I'll go back to enjoying my family and appreciating those tiny miracles I find here at home.
Pam Worthy is a lucky woman to count the McPhersons as friends. And I was lucky to happen upon them by accident this Christmas.
God bless us, everyone.