When I was 10 years old, my dad (by no fault of his own) was forced to resign the church he was pastoring. It was an awful situation and one that completely altered the course of our lives. We had been at this church for several years and were deeply connected to the community. The friends we'd made had become family and having to leave so suddenly was traumatic for all of us. My older brother and I were young enough to not fully grasp what was going on, but old enough to be affected by the sudden loss of relationships, routine, and church family. We were rocked, to say the least.
We stayed in town for a few months while my parents tried to figure out our next step. My mom had recently given birth to her fifth child and we were still living in the home owned by the church we no longer went to. It was all too much, so my dad decided we needed to get away, heal, and regroup. So we put all of our things into storage and moved to New Mexico. We had no connection there except that my dad had always wanted to go there, so off we went on an adventure.
First we "lived' in a tent in the Gila mountains. We bathed in the river, fished, learned how to play poker, ate a lot of s'mores and ham sandwiches. It was the coolest thing ever for a 10 year old, but I can't even begin to fathom how awful it must've been for my mom to be taking care of a one year old, 2 year old, 6 year old, 10 year old, and 12 year old in a dirty camp site out in the middle of nowhere. Hi, no thanks. But for us, it was fun and we never knew how much pain my parents were in. We thought this trip was just a vacation, but for them, it was an escape. They were broken, but we never knew.
From there, we moved from house to house and stayed with friends we made along the way. We found a church in Silver City who immediately took us in and took care of us as if we'd always been there. Eventually Dad found work in Albuquerque and we moved into a house in a beautiful neighborhood full of kids that became our close friends. We didn't have furniture, so we all slept in sleeping bags in our rooms, but we had a roof over our heads and things seemed to be calming down a little bit, just in time for Christmas.
We kids had no idea how broke we were, but we knew Christmas was going to be slim. We didn't care. Dad had told us that our big Christmas gift was going to be taking the ski lift up to the top of the mountain that we could see from our living room window. We didn't have snow at our house, but he assured us there would be plenty of snow at the top of the mountain, and we were totally content with that being our only gift. Kids that have grown up in New Jersey don't know how to process a Christmas without snow, so we were really excited.
On Christmas morning, we rushed into the living room to eat cinnamon rolls and listen to Dad read the Christmas story. There were a few gifts under the tree, and three new stocking shaped ornaments hanging on the branches. When the story was done, we rushed to open our gifts, ignoring the tiny stockings. Finally, Mom said, "Guys, I really think you should look in the stockings." We humored her and looked inside the stockings and saw that they were filled with cash. Cold, hard, CASH. I'm sure they could hear us screaming all the way at the top of that mountain. We found out later that our friends and family who knew what we were going through had been sending my parents money for months. Every time they got a check, they stuffed a little cash into each of our stockings. My older brother and I were completely shocked. He had been telling me for several weeks not to make mom and dad feel guilty about the lack of presents under the tree, so we really weren't expecting much at all. That would've been enough for us that Christmas, but this story isn't over yet.
After the present opening fury was over, we went up to the mountain. It was beautiful and magical and exactly what you'd imagine being at the top of a mountain on Christmas day is like. We played in the snow, drank hot chocolate, laughed at our baby sister pouting about everything and headed back down the mountain. As soon as we got home and peeled off our snow suits, the door bell rang. Mom opened the door, but there was no one there. No person, no delivery truck, no note, just a huge box sitting on our front steps. It was as tall as I was, which I guess wasn't that tall, but to me it was gigantic. My parents had no idea where it came from or who would've delivered it on Christmas Day, but there it was, stuffed with more presents for us. Coats, gloves, walkmans, cassette tapes, dolls, games. It was a Christmas miracle! No one delivered on Christmas day 20 years ago! It was the most magical day of my life.
It was the best Christmas I've ever had, but not because we had presents. I remember it so well because we were hurting and God took care of us in unexpected ways. Not because people gave us stuff, but because they remembered us and reached out to make sure we were ok during a time when we felt lost and rejected and alone. I remember it because my parents were suffering, the extent of which I may never fully understand, and they put our needs above their own. They made sure we didn't feel one fraction of the pain that they did. That Christmas means more to me every year because the longer I live, the more I understand sacrificial love and how relentlessly Jesus loves us.
We were hurting, he comforted. We were broken, he healed. We were in need, he provided. For no other reason except ... he loves us. At Christmas, we reflect on Christ's birth, but we all know Jesus wasn’t a white kid born into a privileged society at the end of December. He was a poor, Middle-Eastern Jew, born in the summer, in the most unlikely place for a King. He grew up in a town where people said, “Could anything good come from there?” He suffered and struggled and made himself like us, for no other reason except ... he loves us. He chose to be with us, rather than abandon us, both then and now. Every day. He is our hope. Our Immanuel. Our Savior. God with us.
Merry Christmas, friends. I hope your holidays are filled with love and joy.