Celebrating Christmas changed its perspective for me in one of those moments that comes out of nowhere and take you by surprise.
I answered the phone one particular morning and heard a voice I knew well. It was my uncle. He asked me was I by myself; I was a Mum of three young children and I laughed. My children were there, close by.
The news was sketchy to say the least. My parents, aged 65 and 64, were on their first holiday since retiring. They were passengers in a car being driven by a close family friend. They were an innocent party to a devastating accident. One detail was real – my Dad had died on the roadside with only strangers around him. My Mum was in a hospital not expected to live the night. I was in another state and felt a world away.
I fell to my knees, the phone still loosely held in my trembling hands. A loud moan exploded from within me that brought my two little girls, 4 and 2 running to my side, wondering what was wrong with their usually joyful mother. I have no memory of what I said then, or even what I’d say now, given the same emotions.
Christmas. What to do? Photos of Santa and my kids, Christmas parties with friends and playgroups, choosing and wrapping presents, celebrating Christmas at our Salvation Army corps (church), helping others to embrace the true meaning for celebrations. It came and went in a haze.
Into the new year, still hoping that my mother would recover and be herself again – gracious, effervescent, joyful and caring. There were days when we thought recovery was indeed a reality, and others when all we could see was darkness. Like the day early in the new year when mum ultimately succumbed to her injuries.
My faith was real and solid but it was tough without my parents near. For several years, as Christmas came and went I found it hard to celebrate anything. I had lost a sense of joy about it all. On the outside all looked fine but inside I had lost sight of something precious.
Five years later, my husband David and I and our children - now aged 9, 7 and 5 - were managing a Salvos residential centre for around 80 men recovering from addictions.
For many of them Christmas was a sad, hopeless kind of holiday – often spent arguing with family, using substances to get through, feeling ostracised because of their actions, lonely and without direction.
As Christmas approached I found myself having to prepare in a different way, knowing that I needed to make it a significant time for them to celebrate.
Each day I was focusing with the staff on what food we would eat. My kids and I were wrapping a present for each of our clients, and I was teaching a choir of the men to sing some carols together. On Christmas Eve, a group of us decorated the dining room. We held a Chapel service where family and other significant people in their lives came. I was telling them the story of Jesus’ birth.
On Christmas Day I ushered everyone into the centre's dining room. I could now see the finished product. A large Christmas tree, with its baubles and tinsel, looked amazing, with the star on top a little crooked but still there. Underneath it were the presents my children and I had wrapped, one for each of the men who were now like family to us. The tables were long with the colours of Christmas adorning them – red and green and white. The children were excited to be part of a celebration unlike any they had experienced.
As I took my place at the end of one of those long tables, my husband and children sitting close by, I had to catch my breath with the emotion welling up inside. I was remembering that Christmas past when I thought I would never celebrate again in quite the same way.
All around the tables each of the men took their place, their smiles indicating a new-found joy in what Christmas is all about.
That day, Christmas came to life again for me. With tears in my eyes I acknowledged that while my life was certainly different and wasn’t being shared with those I loved most, my parents, I was discovering that indeed there is the greatest joy in knowing Jesus, the reason for our celebrations, and in sharing Him with others.
Do you need help?
Few lives are untouched by the major social problems associated with drugs and alcohol today, particularly at Christmas. We all need to be informed on the subject and know how to prevent problems and find help if necessary. If you or a loved are suffering from the effects of drugs and alcohol, there is help. Visit our Recovery Services website for more information.
By Major Beth Twivey