It seems like no one is ever happy with what they have. If someone has a brand new car, they want a nicer one, with all the expensive options. If a person has a secure job that pays a decent salary, he gripes about his boss. We all complain about the smallest things. We never realize how lucky we are.
I was one of those people for a long time until one Christmas ten years ago.
At the age of twenty-four years old, I was living in Martin, West Virginia, population 18,400. My mother had always insisted I go with her each Sunday to the Baptist church down the road from our small, one-story house where I had grown up, playing in the dirt road with the neighbor kids until I got a job working in the lumberyard in the next town. I hated my life, my job, and my broken down Chevy, and I never kept a girlfriend for more than a couple of months. Nothing ever seemed right, or good enough.
Well, everybody was getting excited that year about Christmas. There had been a layoff from the lumberyard and a few other companies around the area, so there wasn’t much money for gifts. Still, the women got busy making crafts and stitching quilts, determined to make the best of things. I sure didn’t want another of those things, and hoped the one my mom was working on while watching her soaps on t.v. was for the neighbor woman whose husband had just got laid off, and not for me. Somehow I always got presents I didn’t like. And I felt I had to get gifts for those who got me something so I wouldn’t look cheap. It was a mess, any way you looked at it.
This Christmas I was even more aggravated than usual. When I went shopping in the little downtown district where most of the department stores had closed, all I would see were fake Santas ringing bells, pleading for help for the poor, but they weren’t going to get my money. Mom, though, was a soft touch. She always put a few bucks into the kettle. Then I would remind myself that was why she was always broke.
Finally the so-called big day approached. The weather was threatening snow, but so far the ground was brown and hard, despite the feeble attempt to brighten up several front porches with Christmas lights and a few weathered decorations. After trying to get out of going to the church’s Christmas Eve service unsuccessfully, I drove Mom down the dusty road about 7:30 that evening, muttering about the loud tailpipe that was sure to catch a police officer’s ear and earn me a ticket.
We got seated, Mom smiling and taking the hand of several people she knew from town. I sat beside her, bored, eager to get this over with. Pastor Paul came up the aisle toward us, and I groaned inwardly when he stopped at our pew.
“Brother Dave, will you help some of our speakers in the front row climb the steps to the platform?”
Before I could present my excuse about an old back injury, my mother chirped, “He’ll be right glad to help, Pastor.”
With a quick thank-you, the pastor returned to the front of the church and stepped up to the pulpit.
“Welcome, brothers and sisters. Tonight we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. A few of our members would like to share their gratitude for God’s blessings in their lives this past year.”
Reluctantly I stood and moved quickly down the aisle, expecting to assist an elderly widow who would be donating part of her husband’s generous insurance policy to the church.
Pastor Paul turned to the section at the side where I waited, and said,
“Terri, would you like to go first?”
A middle-aged woman nodded quickly and struggled to stand, being somewhat overweight. I reached for her arm before realizing it was missing. Stepping back in dismay, I tried not to show my embarrassment. Terri turned halfway in her pew to offer the other arm, and I took it, escorting her to the stage, and then returned to the side section to watch as she spoke.
Terri gave thanks for God’s sparing her right arm. For a while after her car accident, she had not had any feeling in it and worried it might have to be amputated, like her left arm had been. She went on t say she could not feed herself at first, use the bathroom, answer a phone, or close doors. She could not even take her own medicine. Her words me think; what would I do without either of my arms, or even one of them?
Pastor Paul helped Terri descend the three steps on the other side of the platform, and an usher seated her in the front row. Next, it was April’s turn on my side. As I moved forward to help her up, I noticed she used a white cane to get to her feet. April was a pretty girl, and I suddenly felt sorry that someone so young could not see her surroundings. I thought how hard it was to be blind.
She didn’t need much assistance, for she was used to making her way around with the aid of her cane. But I guided her to the steps and assisted her the short distance to the pulpit, and then returned to the pew where she had been sitting. Taking a seat, I sat back to hear her story, disturbed by her complacency and the smile that wouldn’t leave her face.
April gave thanks for so many things that I took for granted. I thought how hard everyday life must be for her, and how she could not even enjoy the beauty of budding roses, autumn leaves, or a golden-streaked sunset. But in all that she said, April made it sound as though she were the lucky one.
Peter went next. He had lost his family in a fire. Just seven years old, he had been burnt on 70 percent of his body. The boy had no hair left. When I reached to take his hand, he grasped mine tightly.
Peter gave thanks for the church that had adopted him as a member. Then he told how the kids had school had run from him and called him “monster.” But he knew that God looks at him on the inside and will never run from him.
By now everyone in the congregation was shaken up, feeling they were the ones being blessed this night.
The last person was Moses, who had terminal cancer with only a short time to live. He gave thanks for having the Lord take away the fear of dying. He said every day we have on this earth is a gift, and that we should find joy in each minute. The elderly man claimed he had found more joy and beauty in each day of his life since he found out he didn’t have many more left. This would be the best Christmas he’d ever had.
As I looked at the clock, I saw it was Christmas, and the Lord had changed my heart. I stayed after the service and prayed the Lord would forgive my sins. And I asked Him to become my personal Savior.
Looking back brings many precious memories. April and I have been married nine great years. Our adopted son Peter will be going off to college soon. But each Christmas after we celebrate the birth of Christ, we give thanks for being blessed with each other, and for all the Lord has done for us.