• Christmas Eve at In-N-Out

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    Christmas Eve at In-N-Out

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    John looked down at his milkshake – his tears mixing in with the ice cream – he was filled with self-pity and loathing. There was still another two hours to kill before he would pick up the kids. He was rolling the cup back and forth, and noticed printing on the bottom rim. It was a scripture – Proverbs 3:5. He had heard somewhere that the IN-N-OUT burger chain was owned by a religious family, but he was curious enough on this sad Christmas Eve to pull Proverbs up on his iphone. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding”
    “Well,” he thought, “that is exactly what I should have done, and not followed my own desires.” He picked up a French Fry and there was another scripture on the holder – Proverbs 24:16
    This one said: “For a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity.” “If only that were true in my case,” he thought. “But it’s not the case, I’m not a righteous man, and I have been brought low by a calamity of my own making.”

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    He looked out the window at the falling snow — “Going to be a white Christmas,” he grimly thought, “but I feel surrounded by darkness.” There were circles under his eyes, and a sad, sad look on his face – one of regret and remorse. He was due to pick up the children at his ex-home at 9:00 PM. They were to stay the night with him in his one-bedroom apartment and then go back at about 10:00 AM Christmas morning.

    He thought back — back to last February. There he was, a successful Physician’s Assistant, at a doctor’s group attached to the local Intermountain Health Hospital in Riverton, Utah. He loved his job; it paid well — $90,000 a year. He and Sally had a nice home, with girls eleven and nine and were expecting a son. Then he let his self-control get away from him. He started an affair with a young nurse in the office. He tried to justify it by a mid-life crisis, rationalizing that Sally had put on some weight and wasn’t that attractive anymore; that he deserved some excitement; and a bunch of other phony and useless excuses. It had ended very badly – he was caught by a co-worker who went directly to Sally. She couldn’t believe what had happened – fortunately he had the common sense to tell the truth, asking for forgiveness. But it did no good.

    Sally said she could never trust him again, wanted him to leave immediately, and then told him that she intended to file for divorce. When he said he was sorry, Sally said, “You aren’t sorry, only sorry you got caught.”
    John had no place to go other than a hotel or his parents. He chose his mother and father, who were astounded at the news. They were astonished to see him with just a suitcase in his hand and wanted to know the details of what had taken place. He could see the disappointment in their eyes as he related his grievous mistake. He felt horrible. He didn’t want to go to Mass, didn’t want to go to Confession, but he knew he had committed a mortal sin – the anxiety haunted him day and night.

    He got an apartment and had the kids every other weekend and every Wednesday night. He had never realized or appreciated how much work it was to manage his small family. Having to take care of his baby son made him appreciate Sally even more. Five months had now gone by since their separation.
    One day, Ray, his father, asked to meet him after work at a small café where they could have some privacy. His dad ordered a favorite beer for John, but he waved it off – said he just didn’t feel like it. They sat in silence for a few seconds, then his Dad asked, “What do you think love is John?”

    John looked up surprised but then said, “I guess it’s the overwhelming passion one person feels for another, the desire to have them with you at all times – almost wanting to possess them, the feeling that you cannot go on living without them, an overwhelming euphoria.” “Is that how you felt about Sally at first?” his dad asked. “Yes, I can remember those feelings, but they haven’t been there for a long time.”
    What about the woman you became involved with?” “Yes, some of those feelings were there,” said John. “What about now, you told me that you had ended the relationship?” “Yes, once she found out I had no interest in marrying her, she told me never to contact her again. I was glad to not have it go on – it was selfish and stupid.” “Do you still have those feelings about her?” “No, they’ve faded and gone.” Have you had any other affairs?” John shook his head. But thought to himself, “I’ve been tempted, since I don’t think that I can be any more unhappy than I am.”

    “What about Sally, how do you feel about her?” his dad asked. “Every time I think about her it makes me sick to my stomach — what I have done to my family. I understand that she will never take me back, but I would do anything to be able to return to her and the kids.”
    “Well,” Ray said, “The first thing you need to do is to come before God with a contrite spirit and a broken heart. I’d say you are getting pretty close.” John looked down so his dad wouldn’t see the tears welling up and the anguish on his face.

    “John, let me tell you what I think love is. First it’s the desire to do whatever is best for the person you love, even if it means sacrificing your own desires. How long did that overpowering passion last with Sally?” “Probably about a year or so, then we fell into a routine.” “That’s about right, the fascination wears off and the daily routine of living together takes over,” said Ray. “And this is where true love comes in with mutual esteem, respect and devotion. It’s knowing the person you love will always be there for you, who cares for you at your best and your worst, who will be the caring mother of your children, and a comforter, and cry with you and laugh with you, all the days of your life – and finally, it’s absolute commitment to the other person. Think about what you really want out of your marriage. Don’t give up yet.”

    Over the next few months John did his very best to treat Sally royally. He brought flowers, he wrote her notes, he tried everything he could think of. She was cordial but icy each time he went to pick up the kids. He thought about all of this as he left IN-N-OUT, not feeling any of the joy of Christmas Eve or even what it meant.

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    He hesitatingly went to the front door of what used to be his home, wondering who had put up the Christmas lights, and the tree he could see through the living room window. Before he could knock, the kids came out yelling “Daddy’s here! Daddy’s here!” Behind them stood Sally dressed in a red sweater. Normally she did not invite him in, just gave him a bag or suitcase for the kids, kissed the girls and their son goodbye and then closed the door, making sure there was no physical contact. This night was different.
    She said, “It’s Christmas Eve, would you like to see the tree and decorations?” It was painful, but he said, “Yes, I’d like to.” It was like stepping back into the past. All of the familiar ornaments, the nutcracker, even the Crèche scene of the Christ Child, and the star above. All these things brought back tender memories of Christmases past.

    Sally said, “take your coat off and sit down for a minute – I’ve got hot apple cider on the stove.” He mutely did so and then talked to the kids about Christmas. He was just telling them about the scriptures he had read at IN-N-OUT when Sally came in. “I had heard about them,” she said, “but I’ve never seen any on the cups.”
    He asked the kids if they would like to go to IN-N-OUT for a late supper and look for more scriptures before going over to his apartment. They said yes enthusiastically. “I guess you wouldn’t want to go with us?” he asked Sally. She looked at him for a moment, and then said, “Yes, I think it would be alright, I’ll follow you in my car.”

    When they went inside it was already 10:30 and only a half hour before they closed. When John went up to counter, he asked the older man who was taking orders if they could order one of each item, that had a different scripture. The older gentleman softly said, “That’s okay, just order what you would like to eat and I’ll get you the scripture list.” John was sort of surprised at his age since IN-N-OUT usually had only young people working.

    As John reached to pick up the food, the old man put his hand over John’s, bent down and said softly in his ear. “Remember – BE NOT DISMAYED, FOR THE LORD IS WITH YOU THIS NIGHT.”
    John was a bit disturbed that the man was aware of his sorrow. But after gazing in the man’s kind face, he turned away and went back to the table. Here is the list of scriptures the old man gave him.

    REVELATIONS 3:20 BURGER WRAPPERS

    PROVERBS 24:16 FRY HOLDER

    PROVERBS 3:5 MILKSHAKE CUPS

    NAHUM 1:7 DOUBLE DOUBLE WRAPPER

    JOHN 14:6 WATER CUPS

    1 CORINTIANS 13:13 KEY CHAINS

    JOHN 3:16 BEVERAGE CUPS

    John had his iPhone and Sally an iPad — they let the kids see how fast they could find a scripture. And then read each one and explained its meaning. The last scripture read: “For God So Loved the World that he gave his one and only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” They talked about the sacrifice that the Savior had made to take on the sins of the world so we could be forgiven. It was close to 11 now and John went to thank the old man who was so kind. No one seemed to know who he was or whether they had anyone working there that was older.
    He went back to the table to get the kids and say goodbye, when Sally looked up at him and said: “I have a good idea — Let’s all go to downtown Salt Lake and go to midnight mass at the Cathedral of the Madeline. We can go by the lights on Temple Square on the way. She then said, We can all go together in my car.”
    John didn’t know what to think, but readily agreed.

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    They got to the cathedral about 11:50 and took their seats, all of them leaning forward to pray. John silently asked the Lord to forgive him, to give him another chance, and he again wept bitter tears. Sally sat next to him, and as the service proceeded reached over and took his hand. A little later she leaned over and said, “If you would like, why don’t you come back to the house. You can sleep on the couch and then we’ll all celebrate Christmas together as a family.”

    John couldn’t answer. He was so overwhelmed he coughed, trying to choke back a sob. As he looked up at the Savior on the Cross, the words of the old man came back to him. “Be not dismayed, for the Lord is with you this night.”

    December 2013

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