by Dr. Jim Richards
Impact Ministries Blog
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I grew up incredibly poor and as I got older Christmas wasn’t a time I looked forward to. My memories of Christmas include the time my mother was hospitalized and we had nothing to eat. It was actually my first positive encounter with church. A church group brought us food. I remember seeing the bags of groceries on our porch and knowing we would have food to eat.
Most Christmases were filled with hurt, disappointment, and embarrassment. We always knew that any holiday would end in my dad getting drunk and beating my mother. Or in later years my stepdad would get drunk, get in a fight, and tear the house to pieces. My mother tried so hard to give us some kind of meaningful Christmas with her incredibly limited resources, but it was rare that she was able to deliver on the hopes she had for us. Between my father stealing our food and money and giving it to his other family, the hopes deferred, and the general negative experiences Christmas was usually pretty bleak.
However, there were some positives. My brother and I would go into the woods, cut down a tree, drag it home, and fill the corner of our small living room with that wonderful cedar smell. My mom would sit with us and help us make decorations from popcorn and aluminum foil. I can only imagine how crazy those trees must have looked with a small assortment of store bought balls and lights and homemade ornaments.
This was one time of the year that my grandmother seemed to set aside her dysfunction and pitch in to help. My sister, brother, and I would wake up to a stocking with some candy and fruit and, for some odd reason, we each got a coconut. We opened our presents and, fortunately for us, we didn’t know we were poor. We loved every little toy and every piece of candy. My reason for even bringing this out is that I want you to know, you may not be able to do what you want to do for your children, but they can enjoy anything that’s done in love. Now that I’m older the painful part of those holidays has given way to the few good memories when we were children and life was wonderful if you had a coconut!
As a young adult I was tormented about the holidays. I would usually start getting more excessive in my drug and alcohol abuse in November and it would usually last until spring. I hated the holidays. It wasn’t the fact that we were poor or even the hard times we went through; I hated getting together with people you didn’t know or didn’t like and pretending that all was well! Of course, that’s what dysfunctional families do. The problems are too big to solve so you pretend they don’t exist.
All of this was brought to a head when I married a woman who loves Christmas. From the beginning she would decorate the entire house inside and out! She would change the dishes we used. She even played Christmas music. By the time Christmas morning came I would be struggling with depression so badly I could barely make it through opening gifts. But I wanted my kids to have a good Christmas so I prayed and worked it through. I can’t thank her and my kids enough for how patient they were with me and my holiday struggles!
Brenda and I somehow came to realize that we had to create our own traditions and our own unique memories. I needed for everything we did at Christmas to be genuine. Brenda has always been so gifted in the area of hospitality and I am able to help and encourage people. So the second year we were married we melded our abilities and began making sure that at Thanksgiving and Christmas we reached out to those who were widowed, divorced, and single. We invited them into our home to minister to them and help them through what could be a very difficult time. For me, the ability to bring joy to others was an essential part of my personal healing!
Let me encourage you to look beyond your own needs and reach out to others during the holidays. You may be like Brenda and I. We seldom had the money or resources to do what we did, but we did what we could and people were helped. The law of sowing and reaping works most consistently in the area of grace. When we seek and experience the grace to give anything away, that same grace makes us able to receive the very thing we give away! Too often we want to experience something in ourselves before we attempt to give it to others. Many times we experience the grace to receive at the very instant we are experiencing the grace to give.
Create new traditions for you and your family. Be the blessing to others you wish someone had been to you. Take the love of God to others and you will experience it in your own heart! Please download my free series "Creating Happy Holidays" and encourage your friends to visit our website and download their free copy. Let’s help everyone have a great Christmas.
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