Hello, and Merry Christmas to you all! May the peace of God bring you every Christmas blessing this year!
This is my second Christmas since the incident with the gunman at R. E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in August 2013. For this reason, I am looking at the holiday in a different way because I realize I am lucky to even be here to celebrate it. I feel more blessed than ever, and I appreciate the true meaning of Christmas more than I ever did before.
When I was young, Christmas was not about getting a lot of gifts — it was about getting one gift. You see, my mother raised me and my two older brothers, Timothy and John, by herself without a whole lot of money. She worked very hard, but nearly every dime she earned went to feeding and clothing her kids. Nevertheless when Christmas rolled around, my mother asked each of her children which present we wanted for Christmas. Then she found a way to buy us each a present, wrap it, and put it under the Christmas tree. Growing up, I never saw a bunch of wrapped presents under the tree for me. All that I saw was there — one gift.
That one present was more than enough for me. I can still remember the joy I felt when I ripped off the wrapping paper and found just what I’d asked for. One year I asked for a Baby Alive toy doll. Sure enough, there she was waiting for me on Christmas day in her little pink dress with her big, giant eyes. That was a magical moment! All these years later I still remember that cute little doll and the feeling of hugging her tight on Christmas Day.
For us, the real fun of Christmas happened soon after we opened our gifts. My mother could not buy us a lot of fancy toys, but she sure could cook up a storm! Each Christmas, she would cook a big ham, chitlins, greens and macaroni and cheese—and for desert, a big chocolate cake we kids looked forward to all year. The four of us would sit down for our big meal, say grace and thank God for His many blessings. We would laugh and joke as we piled food on our plates and enjoy the specialness of the day. I still get a warm feeling when I think about those long ago Christmas meals.
If we were missing out on something because we only got one gift each, we sure didn’t know it at the time. In fact, we thought we were the luckiest kids around.
When I grew up and had my own children, Christmas changed. I wanted my kids to have more than I did when I was young, a desire most parents share. I let them look through magazines and pick out things they liked throughout the year. Though we did not have a lot of money, I would do my best to get them what they asked for. I hid their presents in the closets and wrapped them on Christmas Eve after the kids went to bed. And when they got up and raced to the living room, they saw a big, beautiful Christmas tree with a whole lot of presents underneath. I never tired of seeing their happy faces as they opened each one.
One thing about Christmas did not change from my childhood to when I became a mother, and that was going to church to celebrate the birth of our Lord. Nothing happened – not the gifts or the meal – until after we dressed up in our finest to congregate with our neighbors and sing the praises of God at Christmas service. It did not matter if there were presents under the tree—Christmas was about thanking God for what you had and not worrying about what you did not have.
Then on August 20, a gunman entered R. E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Georgia, with enough ammunition to kill hundreds of children. By the sheer grace of God, I was able to talk the gunman into putting down his weapon, and no one died at the school that day. But Lord knows, coming so close to tragedy changed me, and I suspect it changed every parent who had a child there.
Coming so close to losing everything makes each moment spent with loved ones more valuable and precious. Because every hug, every smile, every laugh, every giggle, every silly dance, every grumpy outburst, every living, breathing moment — these are the real gifts we get to unwrap not just on Christmas but every day we are blessed to be alive. Even the hard stuff – the setbacks, troubles, challenges and just plain awful days -are precious gifts, because they are all part of God’s plan for us. Everything God gives us helps prepare us for our purpose on earth. We can be assured that every good gift and every perfect gift is “coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17).
As you open your presents this Christmas and reflect on the previous year, be thankful not just for the material gifts but for the heavenly gift God gives us. To celebrate God’s gift each day is the true meaning of Christmas. It’s a chance to reflect on all the wondrous gifts God puts under your tree so that you can rip them open and enjoy them each and every day. It’s a reminder to feel happy and joyful for being so very blessed.
May the peace of God be in your heart, mind and soul. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!