I trudged up the steps, set my suitcases by the door, my eyes tired from a day of arduous travel. It was almost midnight, three days before Christmas.
My day had started at 0530 when I checked out of my hotel in Killeen, Texas, outside the gates of sprawling Fort Hood. I had arrived in Texas three weeks earlier to help provide an intelligence scenario for an upcoming command post exercise to be conducted by V Corps Headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany. Fort Hood hosted a powerful computer that was to generated simulated intelligence reports based on the data that we would feed into it. I had arrived on a seventy-degree December Sunday. By the end of the first week, the temperatures had dropped into the fifties. Now, as I cranked the frost-covered rental car, the temperature was down in the twenties—and the freezing rain was already falling.
By the time I reached Waco, the bridges along I-35 had become slippery from freezing rain. A winter storm was pelting the countryside and coating the roads with a thick sheet of ice. On the way north to Dallas, I’d passed few other travelers; most were too wise to venture out in the treacherous conditions. I topped a small hill at one point to discover a tractor-trailer rig lying on its side in the median of the highway. When I got out of the car to check on the driver, I immediately fell to my knees on the thick sheen of ice. I skidded and slid over to the big truck only to discover that the driver had kicked out the windshield and disappeared.
I reached DFW Airport where conditions had gotten worse—and most airlines had grounded their planes. Most of the airlines had canceled their flights, but after an hour standing in line, a Delta agent booked me on a 3:45 flight to Atlanta. Further delays followed and we didn’t take off until an hour after that. In Atlanta, the two bags I’d lived out of for the past three weeks ended up on different carousels—so it was after 9 pm before I finally rented a car and headed northeast.
The night was dark and cold, but I knew the way from there. As the lights of the big city fell away, I emerged into the countryside. At this hour, on this highway, on this night, there were few other headlights in evidence.
Now I stood, finger poised over the doorbell. It was awfully late to come calling, but I knew that, unexpected as I was, there would be a warm, comfortable bed for me and people inside happy to receive me regardless of the hour.
The hall light finally came on and Dad opened the door. “Merry Christmas!” I said smiling. Mom had already gone to bed, but she was happy to get up. We talked into the wee hours of the next morning as I explained that I had been on temporary duty in Texas, not in Germany, for the preceding weeks.
When Joseph knocked on all those doors in Bethlehem, he wouldn’t have expected to be greeted as a favorite son, as family or even as friend. All he would have expected was shelter for his pregnant wife. He wouldn’t have expected that her bed would be one of hay or that the cradle for his newborn son would be a manger. Our lives unfold in unexpected rhythms with unplanned opportunities and unheralded blessings. My trip home for Christmas in 1983 was one such blessing for me–and that baby in the manger was the great blessing for us all.