The giggles of my youngest children tinkled through the living room like little sleigh bells. One of my older daughters at the piano added her sweet strains of Silver Bells to the mixture. The aroma of freshly baked sugar cookies enveloped the house. And in the growing dusk, the gentle glow of the lights on the tree wrapped the moment like a beautifully tied bow on a picture-perfect present.
Even though the wind rattled the window and the snow swirled in a blustery gale, in the warmth of the kitchen with a steaming mug of peppermint tea, my heart was at peace.
I’d spent part of the afternoon researching online. My plot for my next novel was coming together. And I was getting excited about the way the characters were revealing themselves to me. If I could continue to make steady progress with my research, I might be ready to start writing the first draft in January.
I folded both hands around my mug and slurped a hot sip. A glance at the clock in the corner of the laptop told me I still had at least an hour. A whole hour left to research. What could be a more pleasant way to spend a winter afternoon?
Suddenly, a box popped up on the screen in front of me. A glaring, red box. It read, “Your computer is compromised with a trojan. Begin anti-virus scan.”
My heart crashed to a halt. I stared at the word “Trojan” with dread. The nightmare of the last virus invasion darkened my thoughts. But then, calmly, with my heart sputtering back to life, I did what I’d been told to do. I refrained from panicking and clicking any of the pop-ups (which are usually the trojans trying to trick us into clicking and in the process downloading them into our harddrives). Instead, I shut down my laptop and prayed the problem would go away.
After a few minutes, I restarted my computer. I held my breath as I waited for the screen to reload.
"Oh, no," I whispered. The dreaded box was still there. I tried restarting my computer again. But it wouldn't go away. I attempted to activate my laptop's malware program to no avail. I tried to run an AVG scan. And that too failed.
The children's laughter in the living room grew obnoxious. The piano music was too fast and loud. The room turned as chilly as my forgotten tea. My insides rattled with the same unsettled tempest as the wind that thrashed the oncoming darkness of night.
Have you ever noticed how quickly we can loose our sense of peace? One moment it's there, and in the next it slips out of our grasp.
In the original Trojan Horse story of ancient Greece, the people of Troy brought a big wooden horse into the city as a gift to their god Athena. Little did they know that their long-time enemy, the Spartans, were hiding in the belly of the wooden horse. After darkness fell, the Spartan soldiers climbed out and conquered the unsuspecting Troy.
Just like the Trojan of ancient times and similar to the online viruses that infect our computers, the trojans of real life sneak in undected too. We don't see them coming, but suddenly they're there--irritating, frightening, and often destructive. A scary health diagnosis. An unexpected relationship problem. A sudden death in the family. An unwanted job loss.
Sometimes we can't stop an invasion. As hard as I tried, I couldn't stop the trojan from making it past all of the protection I'd loaded onto my laptop. And we often can't stop the bad things from happening in our personal lives either.
If you're like me, you may even say something like, "What kind of twisted person takes pleasure in hurting and causing problems for others? Who would do such a thing and why?" But, the fact is, evil exists. Thus, hardships and difficulties abound.
Maybe our goal shouldn't be so much about how we can avoid life's painful times (although I'm all for self-protection!). But when we try to avoid anything difficult, perhaps we miss out on the growth that can come while we're in the middle of the hardship.
When we can't escape those unavoidable trojans, when our own peace deserts us, one of the best ways to cope is to do good for others, to take the focus off ourselves and our problems. And even if we're not experiencing a trojan, during the times of peace, wouldn't we all be better off if we took a few minutes every day to do something good for someone else?
A kind word. A card of encouragement. A smile to a stranger. Taking a plate of cookies to a teacher. Shoveling the walkway for a neighbor. Sending a restaurant gift card to a new mom. Offering a critique to another writer.
Especially during the holidays, I challenge all of us to look for ways we can spread a little more peace and goodwill.
Merry Christmas, everyone! Peace and Goodwill to you!
P.S. This year my annual Christmas letter is online! You're invited to read it: Hedlund Happenings
(I will be taking a blogging break starting Friday, Dec. 24, but will be back bright and early on Monday, Jan. 3.)