An Unexpectedly Joyful Holiday

Work Stress

An Unexpectedly Joyful Holiday

She thought she was stuck at her job on Easter, but she really was blessed.

Paula's cross of woven palm fronds, on a background of purple velvet

I couldn’t have been in a worse mood. I glared at myself in the full-length mirror in my bedroom. Black suit, sensible shoes, conservative necklace. Blah! I should have been in my Easter best. After all, it was Easter. But I had to work.

“We’ll make a big dinner next weekend when you’re off,” my husband, John, said, poking his head into the bedroom.

I shook my head. “It won’t be the same.” My eyes lingered on the pretty blue dress hanging in the closet. I’d worn it to church that morning and that was that. It hardly seemed worth the expense.

I’d bought it with the idea that we’d be driving to Virginia for the holiday, spending the week with John’s family. The perfect occasion to catch up with his mother, sisters and brother. Neither John nor I have any family nearby. We’d both looked forward to the trip for months.

But there’d been a last-minute scheduling problem at the long-term addiction-treatment center where I work and I was stuck with the Easter Sunday shift. We’d had to ditch our plans.

I forced a smile and kissed John goodbye. Duty called.

Usually I pray or focus on positive thoughts during my commute. Not today. I thought about our church service that morning.

Sunlight streaming through the stained-glass windows. The choir belting out alleluias. Bell-shaped white lilies overflowing the altar, perfuming the air. Families decked out in their new spring outfits packed into the pews. Everyone smiling. The gospel message–so full of joy!

All I’d felt was resentment. Everyone else would be going home to family, a delicious feast, Easter-egg hunts in the backyard. The whole point of holidays was to get away from work and spend time with loved ones. To make memories meant to be cherished. I was going to miss out on all of that.

I drove through the entrance of the treatment center and took a deep breath, pushing my feelings down inside me. Our students, as we call the residents, are very sensitive to emotions. It’s important for the staff to stay even-keeled.

No matter what I’m going through in my own life, at work I do my best to project an aura of calmness.

Students stay at the rehab for months and never leave the campus. Holidays are especially difficult for them. Relax, I warned myself.

I parked the car and walked to my office. Sandy, a coworker, was at the coffeepot. “You know, we don’t even get overtime for working today,” she said. “It’s not one of our holidays.” Great.

In fact, everyone seemed on edge. Students complained that there weren’t any chocolate Easter bunnies. They argued with one another, and fought over the TV remote. It seemed I was constantly reminding them of the behavior that was expected of them.

Finally it was time for dinner, a meal shared by staff and students. I stared down at the piece of pork on my plate, a pool of scalloped potatoes next to it. Our chef is creative, but I couldn’t help but think about my sister-in-law Liz’s mouth-watering honey-glazed ham, which I could have been eating.

And paper napkins? My other sister-inlaw, Andrea, sets a color-coordinated table right out of House Beautiful. The dessert I was eating, coconut-flavored pie, was definitely not homemade. Not like the lemon ring cookies I bake for Easter every year.

I imagined all of my husband’s family around their table, laughing, leaning back in their chairs and telling stories. I never tired of them. My mother-in-law had at least one funny childhood story about everyone.

And poor John, home alone, eating…what…leftovers? Pizza? A bell rang, signaling the end of the meal. At last. Only four more hours to go. Lord, I really need an attitude adjustment, I thought. This should be your day of glory, not my day of pity.

On the way out of the dining hall one of the female students tapped me on the arm. “Paula, I have something for you,” she said.

“You know the rules,” I said quietly. “I can’t accept anything from students.”

“I got permission,” she protested. “I made one for everyone on staff working today.” She put something in my hand.

I looked down. It was a little cross of intricately woven palm fronds.

“I wanted to thank you for giving up your holiday to be with us,” she said.

I struggled to maintain my calm, professional demeanor. Our students wish they could be with their families too. But they don’t get to go home at the end of the day the way I do. Most of them won’t get to go home for months.

I held the cross and thought about Jesus’ days on earth after his Resurrection. He didn’t have a big celebration. No new outfits. Certainly not colored eggs and candy. Jesus spent his time devoted to his ministry. He walked, talked and ate with his disciples.

Jesus was all about his work and completing his mission here among the people who needed him most. Wasn’t that the example I wanted to follow?

“Thank you,” I said. “I’m so grateful to have the chance to be here with all of you.”

The rest of the day I worked with a renewed spirit. Late that night I drove home. The roads were empty. The sky was clear and the moon bright. I knew I’d spent Easter Sunday exactly where God wanted me to be, where I was needed.

I pulled into my driveway. The house lights were still on. John had waited up for me.

“How was it today?” he asked, as he put his arms around me.

“Joyful.”

 

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