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Phill Bettis: Not home for Christmas
Phill Bettis
Phill Bettis

An odd reminder of Christmas past stood sentinel in a room cluttered with items we cannot part with and for which there is no current use. The remnants of our sons’ and daughter’s vacillations between college and other ventures find their way into this room. Free is much cheaper than storage unit rent.

It was once their play room where games of ping pong and table soccer were played. Now the room sits mostly silent awaiting the next contribution and the very occasional withdrawal. Toys fill a box in a corner; a seldom used telescope beckons one to look above at stars and planets rather than boxes of dishes and a karaoke machine.

 On a recent visit to the room, my eyes were drawn to what was once an object of considerable stress. Standing next to the treadmill is a pristine spring mounted rocking horse which I recall assembling one Christmas Eve. Nothing worked quite right with the assembly and the prospect of a foundering rocking horse lying on the floor in front of the Christmas tree at least crossed my mind.

The recipient of the horse was my youngest son, a son who during that time had fallen in love with all that was cowboy. He had the cowboy hat, chaps, six-shooters and the swagger. It was ultimately a sweet Christmas morning as we observed the wonder and imagination of a child enjoying the horse and all the accoutrements.

 Long ago outgrown by the now 6-foot, 4-inch, married, newly-sworn-in attorney, those items are carefully preserved along with other special possessions of our children.

My youngest son will not be home for Christmas this year. He will don his uniform and serve his country in Afghanistan. I write this on the eve of his last night at home for at least nine months. Christmas was celebrated at our house the day after Thanksgiving. He is ready to begin his service so that he may return home to practice law, own a home and start a family.

He is not all that different than thousands of young men and women leaving their homes and families this holiday season to serve in lonely outposts all over the world. Such is the state of our troubled world but such also is the state of brave men and women who know sacrifice and honor on a first name basis. Some dismiss their service as romanticized and unworthy of honor. Those cynics have never served, have never left a loving family and have never loved a land worthy of leaving home and hearth to defend. And many of those defenders have given the ultimate sacrifice.

I now better understand how my grandparents felt sending a son off to war. I also better understand that we live more richly and unafraid because a child was born some 2,000 years ago. That child was born to be sacrificed so that we may be reconciled to our Heavenly Father and so that we may know the value of prayer, humility and love. I can’t help but worry about my son and others but I know worry and fear symbolize the absence of faith.

I find myself experiencing an odd mixture of pride and fear for my son and his brothers and sisters in arms. Yet there is a peace in knowing whatever we face that God’s will is perfect and that He has a plan for each of us, including my son. In His name there is peace and contentment. Christmas carols remind me of that assurance as do the parting hugs of my son. We are a lot closer to those we love when we are closer to being apart. 

That rocking horse will be in that room when he returns home. I long to see his children riding the rocking horse and enjoying it as much as he did. There is an old cowboy hat and chaps somewhere that might just fit one of them. We all have dreams and those dreams make sacrifice worthwhile. I dream that our country founded on faith and freedom might endure for those that follow. I also dream that all of my family will be together again next Christmas. 

Column by Phill Bettis for the Forsyth County News.