Thomas McKenzie
by grace alone
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My Christmas Stick


Last night was the leadership party for my church. We all gathered in our Refectory and got a chance to use our brand new commercial kitchen (its rad-daddy). Have you ever used a convection oven to heat up lasagna? Its a trip.

In preparation for the party, I instructed everyone to bring a wrapped gift. As dessert finished up, we started playing my favorite game (that you can play with wrapped presents). I don't know if this game has a name, but we all drew numbers out of a bowl. Then we each got up, in order, to choose a gift. But, instead of choosing a wrapped gift, you could steal a gift from someone else. So, if your gift got stolen, you could choose a wrapped gift or steal one. The big rule is that you can't have the same gift twice in one "round."

Well, I was number five, and I am a big gift-stealer. I didn't unwrap a thing. The secret to this game is not always to steal something you want. Its better to steal something that lots of people want. That way you always have options. Last night, the hot property was a DVD of the movie "Elf." There was also a CD of the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, a cool flashlight thing, some candy, and this gaudy cross. Those were the gifts that kept on circulating. The four-year old external CD burner and the Christmas-themed paper plates didn't go anywhere.

When it came time for number 16 (of 17), there were only two gifts on the table. One was a normal small-ish box. The other was a really long, straight, wrapped object (about five feet long). Everyone kept mocking it. We all assumed it was a piece of pipe or an old fishing pole. Well, person 16 bit the bullet and opened it.

Everyone was impressed. It was a walking stick that one of our guests had made. He works with trees, and this is a long, hard, straight stick with a slanted top. He had carved the words "The Lord is my Shepherd" into the side of the stick. And the bottom of the stick was carved into a cloven hoof. It was spiritual folk art.

As person 17 rose, I was holding the golden "Elf" DVD. She took it from me, as I thought she would. That left me with the option: what to get. I hesitated for a moment, thinking of the Charlie Brown CD. But when are you going to get a piece of folk art? I stole it. The person I stole it from stole something else. And on and on.

The last person, C--, looked at my stick. He could have taken it from me, and I would have been off to the races (with no hope of having either the stick or Elf again). But he didn't. He let it go, and went to the table. He unwrapped the final gift of the evening. You won't believe what he got. It was fruitcake.

So, I got away with the walking stick. Its with me right now. I love it. Anything else in the room I could have bought at a store. But I could never have bought this stick. It is one of a kind. Wrapped up, it was undervalued and mocked. Unwrapped, and in this context, it was the best thing there.

I'm sorry for C-- that he ended up with a fruitcake. But I'm grateful that I got to keep my stick.

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