The holidays can go either way. They can be a time of family celebration and cheer, or they can twist like a knife in an old wound that won’t heal. Given his checkered history, it always surprised me that Andrew somehow avoided the holiday blues.

His arrest came in the late fall of the first year he was in our church, so he never got to celebrate with us. He was, nevertheless, more like Bob Cratchit than Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, thankfully blind to his condition and genuinely happy for the season.

“Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and your family! How are those beauties (our two baby granddaughters)? Did you and the wife enjoy shopping for gifts? Please say Hi to everyone for me!”

Then he adds, “…the only gift I can send is my love.”

Sometimes having nothing at Christmas lends a strange and wonderful spirit to the holiday. Even Andrew’s few belongings had been confiscated when he entered prison a year ago, and now he extends empty hands with joy.

The next words of his December letter make this joy all the more surprising: “Now it’s getting rough in here. Just had a set back and God still looked out for me like always…” (The setback, I would later learn, was a scuffle with another inmate. Because of Andrew’s history, he was put in the hole and his sentence extended).

Then in typical fashion he pivots to my problems rather than his own. “… speaking of which, I heard you were sick. Hope you get better. Was hoping to be on the other side of the wall soon and it’s not looking good. Need some prayer, have to stay out of trouble for another three months and I’ll be back on track.”

I have noticed a shift in Andrew’s thinking in the last year. He left us, accepting that who he had been was who he was. He had settled into a lifestyle of unhealthy relationships, occasional work, outbursts of anger and moving on. In prison of all places, God was there, reminding him of who he could be; reminding him, in the words of that old hymn, that there is a “love that will not let me go.”

In prison his mind found a resting place for the more permanent things of faith, family, friendship and his future. “If you get a chance please tell my family I said, ‘Happy holidays!’ And that I am hanging in there. Say hi to our Starbucks fans. I’ll be out soon.”

He is like the new Scrooge, scared into his better senses by the ghosts of his past having learned the lessons they teach. “I get the point. Keep my nose clean. After a few weeks they will let me go on approved outings and church events. Well, enjoy the holidays, God is good!”

This calls to mind the words of the reborn miser in the Carol, “I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody!”

Andrew’s not quite there yet, but he beat the holiday blues.

 

(read Andrew’s story on Thursdays here)