Growing up, we didn’t have much money for Christmas. My mom was a single mom of four kids and times were very tough. She did a fairly good job of hiding it from us, but there were many times when the cupboards had no food, our clothes were too small and ratty, and we didn’t know where the next tank of gas or money for the heating bill would come from. After divorcing twice, she had decided to go back to school to get her degree so that she would be able to get a job to support us as a family on her own. During those years, we survived because of food stamps and government aid.
And even though that helped us eat, the government doesn’t bring you hope in that envelope of food stamps.
That joyous time of year when all of my classmates would talk about what they were going to get and what was on their wish list. That time of year when I knew my mom was so sad that she couldn’t do more for us. That time of year when I desperately wanted her to know just how much we loved her and that it was okay. We didn’t need presents—even though, as a kid, we did.
But Christmas is also a lovely time of year when strangers take time out of their days and money out of their budgets to go above and beyond—providing for those who need help. I don’t know how it all came about—I wasn’t privy to the adult conversations—but I clearly remember receiving big boxes of food and bags of gifts from somewhere… the hearts of generous and loving people.
As we would dig through the boxes of food—more excited than any kid getting their Nintendo games or Metallica CDs—we would exclaim with joy over each item. “Look Mama!”
As I’m writing this, my eyes are swelling with tears and they are running over. I can’t quite find the words to express the look on her face or the feelings in our hearts. They were boxes and gifts of hope. Reasons for joy that reminded us of the Greatest Reason for joy—Jesus.
And now, the tears are running over because I’m a mom and I have kids. I know my mom more than ever by sharing this whole “mom-thing” with her. I miss her. She’s been in heaven now for over three years. But the memories of her wondering how she would provide for us and those beautiful Christmases when caring people reached out grip my heart with compassion for her. The tears in her eyes as we received and processed our gifts. The relief we felt for even just a little bit of having the burden lifted. (Yes, we all felt that burden. Kids feel what their parents feel.) The joy at every item lovingly packed and sent our way. Those memories cause the tears to overflow as I empathize with my mom. They make me want nothing more than to reach back in time and give her a hug, let her know that it will all be okay and find a way to ease her burdens.
Today, my kids are the ones making their Christmas lists knowing that Santa is going to be so good to them. But today, I want to do more. I want my kids to understand the hurt in this world and to have a compassionate heart that thinks more about others and their joy than what’s going to be under our tree. I want to reach out to someone and let them know that there’s hope. There is hope in Jesus and when we reach out to them with gestures like Christmas, we’re sharing that hope. And trust me, that hope will never leave them. They will remember. And in a way, I feel like loving on other families this Christmas is a small way that I can reach back in time and hug my mama.