Another year, another Washington crisis. Each year I look forward to escaping the land of political brinkmanship and getting home to normal people in Southeast Texas.
Christmas in the Poe house is quite a site to see. We always have a full house filled with the whole gang including my four children and ten grandchildren. In our house, Christmas means a Christmas Eve service, Fisher Price trucks, football, Nana‚??s Apple Pie, Christmas carols, wreaths, cookie decorating with ‚??Teddy‚?Ě (that‚??s me), Santa, games, and other rich traditions that symbolize December 25th, the holy day of Christmas. It really is the most wonderful time of the year.
But in the midst of the holiday cheer, we should never forget that many families do not have a full house this year. This year, there are 26 families in Newtown, Connecticut with unwrapped presents under the tree, meant for their angels that were stolen from them too soon. The joy of the holiday no longer fills their homes. Instead, these families are dealing with unimaginable grief. No one should have to bury their child, their grandchild. So in our house today we will pray for Newtown as we remember the birth of another child over 2000 years ago.
We also think about the military families across the fruited plains. Many children are celebrating Christmas without their mom or dad. For some homes, the empty chair represents a loved one who is serving overseas. For others, the chair is a somber reminder of the warrior who served but never returned. As Americans celebrate the season within the warmth of home, we think of families without a full house. These families bear the burdens of prolonged war. These burdens weigh heaviest during this time of year.
War at Christmas is not new, and this year will be no exception for those who are still on call serving America. But there is a special way to connect with our troops throughout the world. Each year in Southeast Texas, children and businesses in the community volunteer to make handmade cards for our troops who won‚??t be home for Christmas. It began six years ago at this time of year, when I was headed to Iraq to see our troops and stopped at Landstuhl Military Base in Germany. This is where wounded Americans come from Afghanistan and Iraq. Before my trip, local schoolchildren made handmade cards for me to take to the wounded. I left for Germany with two suitcases full of 6,000 handmade cards from third, fourth, and fifth graders of the Second Congressional District. I checked one of the suitcases, but carried on the smaller one. About halfway through the overnight flight I opened the bag and started reading some of the cards. The person next to me wanted to know what I was doing and I shared a few with him. Next thing I knew, the whole plane was reading them. The cards went up and down the aisles, and a few tears were shed. Amazing things were said in those cards by these Texas schoolchildren. When I got to the base and delivered these cards, it was heartwarming to see what they meant to troops. They didn‚??t know these kids from Texas, but every one of them read them and smiled proudly at the uplifting words of support. They wanted the nurses to tape the cards to the hospital walls and above their beds. There is something about a warrior from the United States opening up a handmade Christmas card from some kid in the United States. At that moment, the darkness of war seems to disappear because of the brightness of a child, the gentle whisper of hope.
Every year since, our Christmas Card drive has grown. Cards are taken and delivered to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, and other places where Americans are separated from families. This year a record-shattering 69,000 handmade holiday cards from my local community are on their way overseas to Afghanistan. The cards come from people of all walks of life, from the third grader to the local business employee. Each card is different but their message is the same: ‚??Thank you.‚?Ě Texans are especially grateful during this time of year for that soldier, that warrior, that sailor, that airman who can‚??t be with their families because they‚??re representing the United States in faraway lands.
No matter what is going on in the rest of the world, the Christmas spirit of goodwill and generosity is alive and well in America. Random acts of kindness are seen throughout the nation whether it is a handmade holiday card, a charitable donation to a stranger to ensure that families get to eat a Christmas dinner, or a toy drive for children who may not otherwise get to experience the joy of giving and receiving. Christmas really does bring out the best in America.
So the nation should pause today. Eat Grandma‚??s cookies, sing Christmas carols, open presents, and enjoy spending times with the ones you love. Think of those who have an empty seat at the table this year where a husband, wife, son, daughter, mother, or father once sat. And don‚??t forget the reason for the season, the birth of the child Jesus that occurred over 2,000 years ago. Wish your neighbor a Merry Christmas, and be thankful that you live in a nation where you can.
And that‚??s just the way it is.