Yes, he thought to himself, surveying the vehicle, Peggy has become the X in Xmas. X for excess.

He could hear Claire’s voice in his head telling him he was being critical again. He didn’t mean to be critical. It was just that Christmas seemed like it was getting further and further away from Christmas. And, now, he was having a hard time reconciling the Son of God leaving the heavens to take on the flesh of humanity with a gaudy minivan wrapped in garland and outlined with twinkle lights powered by a cigarette lighter.

Maybe he did have a critical side. Maybe Claire was right. His critical vein had been bulging. Bulging nothing, it had gone varicose. Lately, when he had felt his critical spirit rising to the surface, he had begun praying the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. The classic prayer helped him focus on being a servant meeting needs, as opposed to being a critic delivering commentary. He prayed silently as he walked to the building, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred; let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope: Where there is darkness, light; And where there is sadness, joy.”

He finished the prayer and felt considerably more charitable in spirit. He glanced over his shoulder and saw that Peggy had also painted a large icthus fish on her back windshield with artificial snow. He prayed once more, “And, Lord, where there is excessive ornamentation, let me sow simplicity.”

For a man who rarely took time to smell the roses, and often barreled right past the more tender moments of life, Walter counted it a small pleasure to walk into the main building on the Cypress campus. He liked the pull of the big wooden doors, the smell of polished wood, and the three-step jaunt up the stairs in the foyer and through a second set of double doors that opened into the main hall. In its heyday, this campus had once boasted the largest high school in the greater metropolitan area. There wasn’t just one building to the school, there were three  buildings on the campus in all. One was now used for the elementary school, another for the middle school, and the third for the high school. This campus had once been a major hub of the city. Everybody who was anybody had gone to school here in the ’40s and ’50s.

The school had borne witness to fashion changes from poodle skirts and Bobbie sox to disco and pastel polyester prom tuxes with Bozo the Clown-size bow ties. The one change the school had not been able to weather was the exodus to the suburbs. Last one out, turn the lights off. The school closed and, with the exception of late-night visits from rats and cockroaches, every building on campus sat vacant for years. Finally, the district put them on the auction block.

In a huge step of faith, or a lapse of sanity, several couples with a vision for a faith-based school that would draw from urban and suburban communities alike offered a bid. This old campus and these large buildings had been an answer to prayer.

Today, Cypress contained kindergarten through high school, with thirteen hundred kids on one sprawling campus. Two-hundred seventy-six different churches were represented here. Talk about diversity. Cypress enjoyed a reputation for strong academics. Kindergartners studied the paintings of Georgia O’Keefe, third-grade students read Homer’s “Iliad,” and fourth-grade students learned Latin. Students came from all over the city, urban and suburban, a colorful mix of black, white, and brown.

In the elementary building, where Walter’s office was, there were wide hallways and massive wooden staircases. At the back of every classroom was a cloak room with hooks for coats and a bench for taking off snow boots.

This morning, Walter was early enough that only the security lights were on in the entry way. He rounded the corner to his office and saw light spilling into the darkened hallway from an opened door. He was delighted to hear the whir of the copier. It meant his assistant Peggy with the wildly decorated minivan was already at work, and that the temperamental copier was still working.