A couple of years ago, I was asked to write about a special Christmas memory, and this is one of the stories that came to my mind.
I remember a Christmas in Virginia. I was 7 years old. My Dad was in the Air Force, and by the age of 7...I think I had already moved 5 times. When we got the news that my Dad would be going to Vietnam for a year, my parents had to make a decision to either stay where we were, or move somewhere closer to "family." Even though we hadn't been in our current location very long, my Mom said we had become involved in school and church activities. We were getting settled in, making friends.
My parents met in high school in Charlottesville, Virginia. My Dad had gone to the University of Virginia. They had a lot of friends there, as well as most of my Mom's family. Everyone begged my Mom, "move home, so we can take care of you and the kids while Skip is gone." At the time, my parents had 3 young children. My Dad thought it would be good for my Mom to have a strong support system while he was gone, so after much thought and prayer, they packed us all up and we moved back "home." To Virginia. My parents found a little house to rent that was right across the street from the elementary school I would attend.
And then my Dad left, and my Mom was home alone with 3 kids for a year.
Of the family and friends who begged my Mom to move home...not one person ever came by.
Oh, they called her or visited with her when they saw her at church or school activities, but that was it.
My memory of Christmas that year was of my Mom taking us to get our Christmas tree. She somehow got the tree...and all 3 of us...home in one piece in the stay-wag. The tree was magnificent. And huge. That whole "go big or go home" was my Mom's motto before it became well-known in the sports realm. In fact, the tree was so big that the trunk wouldn't fit into the tree stand no matter how my Mom tried. She was doing her best to whittle away at the trunk of the tree with a STEAK KNIFE FROM THE KITCHEN, while the 3 of us pulled decorations out of the boxes as fast as we could. I mean, you can just imagine the chaos.
It was only after she put us to bed that I heard her crying. The weight of the family, the loneliness, the frustration...all became too much that night, and the tears began to fall. I didn't know what to do...but I stayed in bed like I was told and eventually fell asleep. I don't know how long she stayed up, but by morning that tree stood tall and proud, stuffed into the tree stand by forces only a Mom with a mission (and a knife!) could understand. It was the most beautiful tree I had ever seen.
My Mom was always strong and determined when it came to getting things done. She was used to taking care of things because my Dad wasn't always able to be there, because of his job. I guess that's one reason why this memory has stayed with me all of these years. She just didn't let much get her down...and yet, as strong as she was, even she had those hard moments. I am thankful for my godly Mom. Even more, I am thankful for a God who sees us in our weakness, and is tender toward us in our times of need. I'm thankful for His help and provision when we are at the end of our ropes.
What this particular Christmas taught me is that mere words aren't enough. How many times do we say, "I'll be praying for you." Or, "let me know if you need anything!" Most of us have good intentions, but our lives just get busy.
We need to look around. There are many people, even in our churches, who just need some help. Prayer is good, but maybe what someone really needs is food. Or a gift card. Or new tires. Or help putting up a beautiful Christmas tree that won't fit in the tree stand.
"And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith." Galatians 6:9-10