Yesterday morning I went upstairs to wake my daughter Theresa who was visiting from out of town for the holidays. I saw that she wasn't in the bed she'd started out in the night before, a brand new queen-size I'd bought about a month ago so that when my kids came to visit with their spouses, kids, friends, friends' friends, whoever, there would be plenty of bed space (unlike Christmases past when we've come up short in the bed department and had to delegate people to couches and blow-up mattresses). When I asked Theresa why she switched beds she said that the new bed was hard as a rock. That concrete has more give than that new bed mattress. I hurried to said bed and tried it out. Aw geez, Theresa was right! The brand new bed was unsleepable upon! It wasn't at all the same mattress that I'd tried out in the store, of that I was sure! I checked the model number on the mattress against the number on my receipt and the two matched. But that mattress wasn't the one I ordered!
So here I was with a month-old, slightly slept-upon rock of a mattress that I probably couldn't return, and even if I could I couldn't deal with it today, Christmas Eve, since my day was already crowded with need-to-dos: more shopping, more cooking, an airport pick-up, a church-work obligation; but with three more kids arriving today, now what was I supposed to do about beds?!
Theresa pointed out that there actually would be enough beds for everyone even without the queen-size.
"So you don't have to worry about the mattress today," she said. "Why don't you just wait until after the holidays to deal with it."
"Fine," I huffed, "but then what? What do I do if the mattress store won't take back this useless mattress that is not the one that I ordered?!"
"Then," interjected my husband Tom, "Just get rid of it and buy a new one."
"What?!" I shrieked, "You want to throw away a brand new mattress?!"
Tom shrugged. "Find some family that needs a mattress. Just give it away and buy a new one. What difference does it make?"
Wow. He was right. What difference would it make if I went out and bought another new mattress? Would we miss a meal over it? A credit card payment? A water bill? A gas or electric bill? Was there a single other want or need over the course of our whole lives that we'd have to deny ourselves if I went out and bought a new mattress?
So just like that my problem was solved and my inner sea was calmed by the healing powers of money.
Later in the day I was at Peace Lutheran Church where I'd volunteered to check that the worship stations were ready for the Christmas Eve service. As I passed by the church office I noticed a young woman standing in the hallway who didn't look like a member of our congregation. She looked, well, poor. I asked her if she needed help and she began explaining to me that the toys she'd requested for her children weren't in the Christmas bag she'd received from our church, so she must have received the wrong bag and could she exchange it for the right one?
I asked the girl to wait while I found our church administrator and told her the woman's problem. She gave me a helpless look. "Everything's gone," she said, "there's nothing left here to give her."
I'm not sure how our church administrator dealt with the young woman's problem. I thought about the woman on and off during the day, I felt bad for her and concluded that, right or wrong, in her shoes , I, too would probably have returned to the church in hopes of getting what I'd asked for for my children.
But it wasn't until that evening when I was helping to light our luminaries and thinking about the metaphore of Light of the World when it hit me like a sudden burst of light : I could have helped that woman! I could have solved her wrong toy problem the same way my wrong mattress problem was solved: with money! I could have zipped over to the nearest ATM and snagged enough money to buy her the right gifts for her children! Because I had enough. More than enough money to buy out her problem, if only I would have thought of it!
But buy the time I thought of it it was too late in the day.
And then...Well, in retrospect, giving that girl money might in reality have turned out to be a bad idea.
Merry Chistmas, and God bless us every one with situations that make us wrestle with our consciences and question our values.