For all the things I love about this time of year, I grow irritated by the frequency with which terms like "early Christmas gift" and "miracle" are thrown about in December.
With that said, my mother-in-law received an early Christmas gift on Sunday afternoon. She'd probably even describe it as a Christmas miracle.
It happened as she was loading her SUV for the trip from Williamsport to her hometown of Tippecanoe.
This summer's drought, coupled with heavy rains when it wasn't droughting, has left Cindy's yard a bit of a mess. The freeze and thaw of last week only added to the yard's condition.
It was as Cindy made her way to her Mazda's hatch, skirting the mud on the narrow path of concrete between the vehicle and the yard, that she noticed something shiny in the mire and muck.
Unloading her bundle into the vehicle, she returned to the gleaming spot. Kneeling to pick it up, she found in her hand a ring, weathered and mud covered, but a ring of gold just the same.
While it must be nice enough to unexpectedly find a few grams of gold in your front yard, I know her heart must have skipped a beat as she began to piece this little mystery together in her mind.
Not only was this a golden ring, it was the most precious kind of band -- a genuine no beginning-no end "with this ring, I thee wed" kind of band.
As if finding a long-lost wedding ring wouldn't be cool enough, this was the ring that once belonged to my late father-in-law. Not only has Scot been gone since 1997, but the family estimates he lost the band several years earlier, meaning it had been buried in the yard, long forgotten for something like 20 years now.
None of us suspected we'd be seeing that piece of jewelry again.
There it was, though, an abandoned scrap of precious metal, looking pretty common and plain, covered in two decades worth of mud.
But how precious it was 32 years ago when a couple of kids saw it as an expression of their enduring love, a love that death did them part much too soon.
And precious it is again this Christmas to a woman who is wearing her husband's ring on her left hand and holding that hand close to her heart.
Cindy had been a bit down before Sunday, but in telling the story, she was filled with that laugh and cry at the same time kind of joy we should all experience once in a while.
It's her opinion that God and Scot, conspiring somewhere in the great beyond, chose this Christmas to give her an early gift.
Anyone in the family could have found the ring at any point in the last 20 years, but Cindy found it this Christmas, just when she needed a pick-me-up.
For her, that's a miracle.
Who am I to quibble over that? I never said I didn't believe in Christmas miracles -- I just want to be judicious in applying the term.
This Christmas I was witness to a miracle, and I'm blessed for it.