I have celebrated many Christmases in my 40 years of life, but none quite as memorable as the Christmas of 1995. Because of the kindness of many, that Christmas morning will forever be etched into my mind.
It all began when my Dad lost his job earlier that year. For months, he looked for work and, except for a couple of odd jobs here and there, gainful employment was elusive. My mom found a job at a fast food restaurant to bring in a little bit of money but, with a family of eight, her meager earnings did not go far. Though I was accustomed to a life of financial worries, this time was different. It quickly felt desperate; hopeless, even.
I graduated from high school in May of that year. A few weeks later, with a small nest egg of money I had earned by working at a local ice cream shop, I left my Arizona home for college in the great state of Utah. Shortly thereafter, reality came crashing down in a spectacular fashion.
I can still vividly recall the night when my mom called with the bad news. It was a Sunday evening in the fall, and I was already feeling miserable, thanks to an escalating virus. When Mom told me that we were going to lose our home to foreclosure, my heart was broken. And, as if that were not enough, my beloved dog also died that morning. It felt like my world was falling apart.
Trying to keep my emotions at bay, I met my friends in the lobby of my dorm for our traditional Sunday night group prayer. Usually stoic and composed, I quickly found myself unable to stop the flood of pain from leaking out my eyes. My friends put their arms around me and ushered me upstairs, allowing me to cry in the safety of their company until there were no tears left.
The next few months until Christmas were a blur. I buried myself in school and work, determined not to ask my parents for a single dime. While I knew attending college was the right decision for me, I could not shake the intense guilt that, had I been home, maybe I could have worked hard enough to save our house and ease my family’s financial burden. Irrational, I know, but guilt is a senseless master.
When I went home for the holidays, I knew there would be nothing under the tree, and I was at peace with that. Being with my family for a few weeks was the only gift I wanted. So you can imagine my surprise when I woke up on Christmas morning to a stack of brightly-colored packages with my name on them, in addition to several gifts for each of my siblings and my parents.
Soon, as I unwrapped each box, my lap was full of wool sweaters, scarves, slippers, and various other cold weather necessities that, being from Arizona, I did not have and could not afford. The cold Utah air had caught me ill-prepared, and I was always freezing when I braved the snow and ice to walk to and from classes. My newly-acquired stack of beautiful winter clothing felt like it had been sent from heaven.
Later, when the excitement died down, I asked my parents how they were able to buy so many gifts.
“We had $100 to spend on Christmas,” my dad explained, “so we only had enough to purchase Christmas Eve pajamas for you and each of your siblings. The people in our ward (church congregation) graciously provided everything else.”
For perhaps the first time, I realized there were people who loved my family enough to provide us with a joyful Christmas when the worries of life had worn us to the bone. My heart was overflowing with gratitude, not only for the much-needed winter clothing but mostly for the pure love of Christ that filled my home and my heart that day.
Since that experience so many years ago, Christmas, for me, has been about love. More than anything, I want to give what I can to gladden the hearts of the downtrodden because I know what it is like to be on the receiving end of such a gift.
Sometimes, that looks like a listening ear or a plate of cookies. Other times, like this year, it looks like gathering donations to fill 32 Christmas packages for missionaries serving far from home whose families cannot afford to send them anything.
It does not matter whether the acts of love and service are simple or profound. The important thing is that I am doing something to spread joy and light in a world that is desperately crying for both.
If you would like to join me in sharing love this holiday season, take a minute to watch this short video. Then, hop on over to this site and download a list of simple ideas for serving others this Christmas. Together, we can light the world, one small act of service at a time.