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A Christmas Miracle or Two

Christmas approached, but not with the usual anticipation and joy typically characteristic of the season.  At least not for Afton.  It was nearly a year since the unexpected death of her husband and the music, smells, and festive decorations only intensified the memories that were still so vivid.  How could she possibly make it through the holidays, not only for herself but for her eight-year-old son who still marveled at the magic of the season?

It was the mid-1950’s when Afton’s beloved Karl was hospitalized, just a few weeks before Christmas.  No one expected a 48-year-old healthy man to never come home.  He passed away from a bleeding ulcer, a condition that could be easily remedied with modern medical knowledge.  It took time for her young son, Randy, to fully understand his dad was not coming home.  What was he supposed to do with the hand tooled leather keychain he made his dad for Christmas?

Afton’s five grown children also suffered from the loss yet rallied to support her.  A close friend taught her how to drive a car, another to find a job.  For someone who had depended solely on her husband, it was a year packed with challenges and personal growth.  She worked hard to fill the role of both Mom and Dad to her young son.

As the world burst forth with bright lights and seasonal music, Afton struggled with “. . . ‘Tis the season to be jolly.”  Randy’s excitement, consistent with an 8-year-old, couldn’t be contained and Afton realized she needed to find a way to fill her own heart with the spirit of Christmas.  The solution came to her mind soon after her resolve to forget herself.

Despite the challenges of learning to live without her husband, Afton busied herself in her Church and community during that first year.  Every Saturday, she drove a carload of children from the same family—nine in all—to a Church activity, organized for the younger members of the congregation.  She became close to this family witnessing the hardships they faced in providing for each child’s needs.  Their home, situated in a poor neighborhood, was well-kept but modest.  As Christmas approached, it was obvious this family would have no visit from Santa.

Afton’s funds were limited, but with what little she had she took Randy to a nearby store to shop for each child.  Randy eagerly helped his mom choose the perfect gift for each individual.  Not only was Afton helping a family celebrate Christmas, she was teaching her son the joy of giving.

Afton and Randy arose early Christmas morning to make their delivery.  Before opening their presents under the tree, they loaded the car and made the familiar trek to the family’s home.  Laden with gifts, they entered the small dwelling, surrounded by shrieks of excitement.  As each present was quickly unwrapped, smiles lit young faces and wide eyes shone brightly at the Christmas miracle.

But that was not the only miracle that took place that Christmas morning.  Afton’s heart healed as she opened it up to serve others who needed her.  Randy, now a father and grandfather, still becomes emotional as he shares his favorite Christmas memory.

Serving when we least feel like it is precisely when we must serve.  When your light is dim, share it with another and see what happens.

Don’t Mess With Tradition

A Tempting Proposal

It all began with good intentions.  Randy knew I worked hard on Thanksgiving day (not to mention the weeks leading up to it) and he wanted me to relax and enjoy the holiday.  I taught school at the time, and the four-day vacation surrounding Thanksgiving was not a break from my hectic schedule.

“Let’s go out to eat this Thanksgiving,” he blurted unexpectedly a few weeks before the big day.  “We can skip the preliminary planning, the shopping, and the full day of cooking.  And we won’t have to figure out how to get the leftovers in the fridge.”  He shouldn’t have mentioned the leftovers.  That’s my favorite part.

Randy was clever with his timing.  His proposal came on a day when I was exhausted and cranky from dealing with second-graders.  His suggestion gradually transitioned from absurd to enticing as the holiday approached.  One week before Thanksgiving, I embraced the offer, grateful I didn’t have to purchase a turkey or a pomegranate, two items I buy only once a year.

No Favorite Pie?

The fourth Thursday of November came without fanfare or stress.  After watching the Macy’s Day parade (for the first time sitting), the family climbed into the car with varying amounts of enthusiasm.  It was uncharacteristically silent as we drove to an all you can eat buffet.  Promising a movie to follow our meal made little difference in the existing mood and I sensed disaster in my hasty decision to change years of tradition.

The Thanksgiving buffet offered many choices but didn’t come close to the savory, homemade delicacies that took hours to prepare.  Feeling physically rested didn’t compensate for the joy I missed serving my family.  Unlike past Thanksgivings, I didn’t rise early to dress the turkey or bake eight different pies to cover everyone’s favorite.  Instead of a morning filled with the laughter of family working together in the kitchen, we all sat in a cold restaurant filling our stomachs, void of conversation or smiles.  I was surprised how much I missed the mounds of dirty dishes and the football game blaring in the background.

More Than a Feast

Why did I feel hungry sitting in the crowded theater watching a newly released Christmas movie?  Pondering the day’s events, I discovered the reason for my emptiness.  Thanksgiving is more than a meal with all the right foods.  Thanksgiving is a day to demonstrate gratitude and loving service.  It is time spent together, cooking, playing, and talking.   It is the season we give thanks for a year of prosperity and blessings, the reasons behind the First Thanksgiving.

As we entered our home late that evening, absent were the smells of sage dressing and pumpkin pie.  Gone was the need to browse through my recipe box of twenty different ways to fix leftover turkey.  Missing were the anticipated meals of turkey sandwiches on day-old rolls.  The fridge was void of fruit salad with brown bananas and gooey marshmallow-topped yams.  We might as well have slept through Thanksgiving, and even though my feet weren’t throbbing, and the kitchen sparkled, I vowed we would never skip it again.

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