I’m going to say this now: I’m proud of you. That’s it. You can stop reading here if you want. I know you’re busy. So take the kids to karate class, scrub your bathroom mirror, schedule a dentist appointment, wash your dog, live your life amidst a worldwide pandemic.

Buy more hand sanitizer. Get some organic peach-smelling disinfectant. Scrub your surfaces, doorknobs, children, pets, and spouse head-to-toe with isopropyl rubbing alcohol. But just remember that I’m proud of you.

The thing is, I don’t think we tell each other how special we are. I don’t think people get enough attaboys, well-dones, or five-dollar beer pitchers.

So I’m proud of you. For not giving up. For eating breakfast. I’m proud of you for remembering to breathe and keep going. Really.

I’m also proud of Billy. He emailed me. He’s forty-nine. He’s been working in construction all his life, and he couldn’t read until a few years ago.

His friend gave him reading lessons every morning on the ride to work. And on weekends. They practiced on lunch breaks.

Billy started with elementary school books. Recently he

read the “Complete Collection of Sherlock Holmes Stories.”

He reads aloud sometimes, during lunch break to the fellas. He said he’s been practicing reading the same stories so many times, he’s almost memorized them.

I’m proud of Leona, who had the courage to check into addiction rehab recently. She’s a young woman, and she needs someone to be proud of her. So I guess I’ll have to do.

I’m proud of her aunt, too—who is helping to raise Leona’s daughter.

And Michael, who just asked Jessica to marry him—on Christmas morning. He squatted down onto one knee in front of seventeen family members, one woman, and her three children.

He gave Jessica and each of her children a ring.

He said, “Will you be my everything, forever and always?”

Jessica’s oldest (Brooke, age eleven) got…

It happened on Christmas Eve, last night. It took place in an ordinary Georgia living room. It was late. Elevenish. The Christmas tree was glowing. A space heater was humming.

Five-year-old Samantha was fast asleep on the sofa waiting for Santa Claus to arrive.

They call her “Sam.” The girl has tight brunette curls and eyes like a Kewpie doll. The irony here is that Sam announced back in October that she quit believing in Santa. And to be honest, who could blame her? This year has been ridiculously hard on children.

When the pandemic hit, her dad lost his job. He took a new job driving eighteen wheelers, and it’s been hard on Samantha’s family. Her father has been all over the U.S. this year, far from home. In fact, he almost didn’t make it home for Christmas. This is what earning a steady paycheck looks like sometimes.

“Santa isn’t real,” Sam told her dad over and again.

“Yes he is,” said Dad.

“How do you know he’s real? Have you ever seen him?”

“Well, no, but

I’ve never seen a billion dollars, either.”

No matter how her dad tried to convince her, skepticism is a condition that cannot be undone without granite proof. Sam’s dad finally suggested how about Sam stay up late on Christmas Eve to see for herself.

Well, it sounded like a good idea. The only problem was, Sam is a girl with an IQ in the quintuple digits. She was not to be convinced easily.

Even so. Here she was, lying on this sofa, this miniature Doubting Thomas, holding onto a final thread of childhood.

The first noise to waken the girl was a deep rumbling sound. Like a diesel earthquake. This was followed by her dog, growling at the backdoor. The dog’s tail and ears were high.

“Could this be it?” she thought. “Could this be him? No way. Not possible.”

Sam arose.…

They came from all 50 states this year. Well, almost.

WISCONSIN—I know you’re not Lutheran, Sean, but I am. So I want to send these words to you on Christmas:

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.”

NEW MEXICO—My name is Meredith, and I wish you a merry Christmas, from me, my two sons, my three dogs, three horses, eight cats, and all our chickens. Oh, and also my husband, Brad.

UTAH—Sean, we’re celebrating Christmas with my dad (89 years old). He had COVID-19 and almost died this year... I am eternally thankful to report that he is totally recovered and even drinking beer again.

TEXAS—Lost my business in September, but rediscovered my family. I will feed you brisket if you come to Texas.

CALIFORNIA—My mother is a nurse and is working so hard right now… They have set up medical tents behind some hospitals to deal with the influx of new patients arriving. She

is tired and exhausted and she will be working shifts on Christmas since other people need her more than I do.

MAINE—We’ve got plenty of toilet paper. Just saying.

FLORIDA—My kids and I just finished making over 300 Christmas cards for local nursing homes...

NEBRASKA—My 12-year-old son is a leukemia survivor and chose to give all his Christmas presents to other children suffering from cancer this year.

SOUTH DAKOTA—Mom and Dad are making a tremendous feast… This is the longest I’ve been away from home. I will see them tomorrow morning! (Amanda, age 19.)

VIRGINIA—My wife and I are getting back together.

MISSISSIPPI—My dad is not doing well, can you pray for him?

KANSAS—Hope you and Jamie (and everyone else in your family, no matter how many legs they have) have a wonderful holiday.

OREGON—Sean, my 10-year-old texted this…

Christmas Eve night. The mountains of North Carolina were giant silhouettes in the darkness. Sheriff Andy Taylor sat on the bench outside the courthouse, watching the stars.

It had been a hard year. Maybe the hardest of his career. The sheriff was downhearted, which didn’t happen often. But then, sheriffs have feelings too.

When it started to snow, Taylor shoved his hands deep into his coat pockets and slipped into a trance. Christmas morning was only a few hours away, and he wanted to feel cheerful, but he couldn’t seem to make it happen.

His deputy joined him on the bench. The scrawny, high-strung lawman had just finished doing his nightly rounds, shining a flashlight into storefront windows; checking doorknobs. All quiet in Mayberry.

“Whatcha doing, Ange?” said his deputy. “Why the long face?”

Taylor flashed a fake smile. “I’m just looking at stars.”

The deputy was obviously concerned, but Taylor hardly noticed. He was too busy thinking about all he’d seen during his years serving this sleepy hamlet. He’d seen it all. Or just about.


once seen the town drunk ride a cow down mainstreet. He’d seen a local goat eat dynamite. He’d jailed bank robbers, swindlers, chicken thieves, speeders, escaped convicts, moonshiners, and Danny Thomas.

Life was moving too fast. The world had gone from AM radios to color TVs. He’d watched the tailfins on Chevys and Fords get taller each year. He’d seen skirts get shorter, hairstyles get shaggier, music get louder, and people get meaner. Airplanes gave way to rocketships. A man hit a golf ball on the moon. Divorce was becoming more fashionable than blue jeans.

But this year…

This year was a humdinger. It was worse than the rest. This was the year the world fell apart. People in town were more frightened and skittish than ever before. And sometimes it seemed like nothing in Mayberry was going right.

Taylor looked at the…

I was 5 years old. I was with my friends, loitering behind the Baptist church. We sat on the concrete retaining wall overlooking the creek bed. We were practicing our spitting.

Mark Anderson arrived in a rush, rosy-cheeked, struggling to catch his breath. He held a cookie tin in his hands.

“I got’em,” Mark said.

Mark opened the tin and distributed the precious contraband. We knew he’d risked his life to smuggle this delicacy across the frontlines of his mother’s kitchen.

They were orangish strips, seasoned with cayenne. I took one bite and my world exploded.

It was like looking directly into a leafblower. The entire universe opened in a singular moment of spiritual oneness. All of a sudden, the work of Brahms, Webern, and Bartók immediately made sense. Suddenly I understood 19th century French poetry. All at once I grasped the transitory nature of existence, although, technically, I was still at an age where I peed the bed.

“What are these?” a newcomer asked with a mouthful.

“These,” said Mark sagely, “are my mom’s cheese


Cheese straws.

If you’ve never had cheese straws, I hope you get some this Christmas. They will blow your hair back. Imagine a crumbly, savory, buttery, floury concoction, baked with enough cheddar to turn your bowels into stone.

Mark Anderson’s mother delivered her cheese straws to our doorstep every Christmas season. Her straws would inspire fistfights within my household.

No sooner would her biscuit tin arrive than my old man would confiscate the container like a purse snatcher. My mother would cut him off at the backdoor, threatening to alter his anatomy with a melon baller.

One year my mother actually tried making cheese straws, but it was a disaster. Her straws came out like briquettes of Kingsford charcoal, only with less flavor. Because as it turns out, cheese straws are fragile things to prepare. Almost like a fine soufflé, or a batch…

Today I had a phone interview with a 6-year-old from Wyoming. The reason for this interview was because this boy has alleged magical powers. I had to get to the bottom of these claims.

Of course I was excited to meet someone possessing supernatural abilities. But if I’m being honest, I was more excited to meet someone from Wyoming. I’ve never met anyone from this state. I was beginning to wonder if Wyoming existed.

Have you ever seen satellite images of the United States at night? The photos show lights from major cities, stringing across North America like a giant glowing vascular system. There is always a huge dark spot over Wyoming.

This is because Wyoming only has 579,000 residents. And to give you an idea of how few that is: the Atlanta metro area has 6 million.

To put it another way: Wyoming is 97,914 square miles, but within the entire state there are only two escalators. This is absolutely true. They’re both located in the town of Casper, and they’re both in banks.

So it was important to investigate these magic claims. You can’t have 6-year-old Wyoming residents going around professing otherworldly capabilities. Next thing you know, you’ll have 6-year-olds in Michigan claiming Detroit has a professional baseball team.

This whole thing started last week when an ordinary 6-year-old boy learned that his uncle was going through a painful divorce. The boy became so concerned about his uncle that he told his mother he wanted to use his “magical powers” to make his uncle feel better.

“Magical powers?” his mother said. “What?”

The boy’s powers consisted of dictating a message to his mother who typed an email that read:

“You’re an awesome uncle and I love you so much because you’re the best! I’m thinking about you today!”

The uncle was so touched by this magic that he almost cried. Except that men from the Cowboy State don’t…

Carol was depressed. Long-term isolation does that to people. She has a compromised immune system, so she’s been isolating for about a year.

Lord, has it been that long already?

Her groceries come by delivery. Her dinners are microwavable. She watches a lot of TV. Many of her friendships have fallen by the wayside. So have activities like church, shopping, volunteering, holiday potlucks, and exchanging Christmas gifts.

So when Carol saw the furry creature on her porch last Monday night, it made her feel something warm inside. She felt a little less isolated. The kitten was tan-colored, curled beneath one of her porch chairs, meowing.

The irony here is that Carol is not a cat person. She normally dislikes cats. But then, this wasn’t a cat, was it? This was a friend.

She stooped to pick up the kitten. She fed it. She stroked its fur. It was an instant love connection. She told the cat there was one simple rule to be observed: no sleeping indoors. The animal was to sleep only in

the garage. But cats aren’t big on rules. So currently, each night the kitten sleeps on Carol’s forehead.

“I think this cat saved me,” she said. “My house isn’t empty anymore.”

Meanwhile, in Southern Illinois, Larry’s mother passed away. The funeral was socially distanced, only 11 people attended. The family took no chances with its elderly. People spaced themselves apart. The preacher wore a respirator.

After service, Larry was cleaning out his mother’s bedroom when he found boxes in her safe. They contained love letters between Larry’s mother and late father. Hundreds of them.

Each letter, written in perfect penmanship. Each one, using the poetic, flowery language that American lovers once used before they eventually discovered the lyrical qualities of, for example, the pile of poo emoji.

Larry read all the letters in order. He was able to recreate the entire romance between his parents. He…