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.