My sister Lisa and I concocted a plan when she was eleven, and I was fourteen. Being the older of the two, I should have been setting an excellent example for her. Instead, I was dragging her into my scheme.
We had been lounging around the living room waiting for Mom to come home one December day in 1983. It was a week before Christmas and Mom had already wrapped our presents, and they were under the tree. I had a terrible time resisting the urge to go on a hunt each year to find out what I was getting for Christmas.
I came up with a brilliant plan this particular year. With excitement and giggling at our brilliance, we unwrapped our gifts, took a peek, then with great care rewrapped them and slid them back under the tree.
The guilt of what we did was hanging like rotten mistletoe over our heads for the next week.
There was no anticipation left, no excitement, and no fun to look forward to. We had ruined Christmas.
December 25th arrived, and our mother and her four children gathered around the tree. Mom handed us each our two gifts, and we opened our presents. Lisa and I had to fake our excitement. I tried the best I could to look surprised, but I don’t think I was very convincing because Mom asked me if there was something wrong. I lied and told her no.
It was the worse Christmas ever.
I have learned a lot about Christmas since I was a child. Presents seem to be the focus when we are small, and this is what usually brings us most of our joy.
What I didn’t know that Christmas, was our apartment would burn down the following September, and by the next Christmas, our family would lose everything we owned. I would learn to not put so much care into gifts and worldly possessions.
If I had known that everything that I owned that year, would be gone by the next, I would have seen this particular holiday differently. You can read about our beautiful and unusual Christmas that next year, here in this post: Night Before Christmas.
I have had had thirty-four Christmases since then. During those years, I have gained a husband, five children and two bonus children. The season has changed so much since I was fourteen years old.
(Our family at a wedding without Kyle) (Kyle)
I can appreciate now all the love and care my mother put into the holiday season for her four children. We would leave part way through the day to go to my dad’s house and spend Christmas with him. Where there were lots of goodies and treats and festivities to make a child’s mouth drool and eyes dance.
But there was sadness in leaving our mom behind by herself.
My siblings and I would look at Mom sitting at the table by herself as we left the apartment and I could never seem to shake the sad feeling of her spending the day alone.
Christmas isn’t always a happy time for many folks. For some, it is the saddest time of year. Christmas dinner may end in fighting, drinking and words spoken or said to cause pain and hurt.
For some children, they find out Santa brings gifts only to the rich, but not to the poor. They go another year without the toys they have written to Santa about. There are single mother’s who just can’t afford to buy their children presents and the guilt of it weighs heavily on them year after year.
(My daughters, Aryanna, Jazmin and Charity and their gingerbread houses)
As a child who was raised by a mother who was poor, I can tell you now that Mom’s love and care for us have been what has stuck with me all these years and it wasn’t the gifts she couldn’t give me that I remember.
She would smile at us as we left her in the apartment alone and say, “Don’t worry about me, I have lots to do while you’re gone.” She wanted us to have a guilt-free Christmas. Her desire was for us to enjoy the day even if we couldn’t spend it with her.
I remember the first year we spent Christmas with our grandparents in Nova Scotia and mom had bought me a doll. I hated dolls. When I opened my present I was so disappointed, but when I looked up at my mother’s face, I didn’t have the heart to tell her I didn’t like my gift, so I faked happiness.
I genuinely tried to like my gift so my mother’s feelings wouldn’t be hurt. I think I had confused her because the year before I had asked for a doll called Baby Alive. The only reason I wanted it was because the Sears Wish Catalogue said it could eat, pee, and poop. I really didn’t believe the ad and wanted Baby Alive to see if it could do what a human baby could. Sure enough, the catalogue was telling the truth, and Baby Alive really could do all those things.
See baby alive here: https://www.hasbro.com/en-ca/brands/babyalive
The year in Nova Scotia I had a doll that did nothing and a fake smile on my face. But the next Christmas I would get a gift I would never forget.
We had moved to Nova Scotia when my parents separated, and I had been begging my mother to put me in gymnastics because I was going to be the next great Olympian. She said she couldn’t afford it. When my dad called to talk before Christmas, I told him I wanted money to be able to be enrolled in gymnastics.
I started saying my prayers, begging God to give me my wish. Christmas morning finally arrived, and my mother handed me an envelope and said with a smile, “This is from your dad.”
I ripped open the envelope and inside was $20. I squealed with excitement and danced all over the living room. It was one of the best presents I ever received, and I knew I had the best dad in the world! I was enrolled in eight weeks of gymnastics and loved every minute of it. Unfortunately, that was all we could afford, and my gymnastic dreams were over.
God knew I would become a mother to five precious children at a young age and professional gymnastics would have no place in my life.
Thirty-four years later what do I wish for at Christmas:
*My son Kyle will be healed of anxiety, bipolar, epilepsy and autism.
*Jazmin, my daughter in law, will no longer have cancer and will live pain-free every day.
(Aryanna) (Devyn and Eythan) (Charity and Dan)
* God will bless my children with a passion for Jesus Christ so deep. and long, and high, that it cannot be measured.
*My husband Vance would be blessed beyond belief for all the sacrifices he makes for his family and especially for his special needs child he lovingly cares for each day.
I no longer dream like I did as a child for earthly presents at Christmas time. My hopes and dreams and prayers are wrapped up in my heart with my husband and children. They are treasures I cherish and pray for throughout the year.
I remember seeing my mother beside her bed on her knees praying when I was a child. I know she brought her children to God regularly and her deepest desire was to see us love God with our whole heart. Without her prayers, I don’t think I would be who I am today, or where I am today.
You may be that parent who is wondering today how you are going to fill the tree with presents by tomorrow morning. Maybe you don’t even have a tree. You are sending up your prayers to heaven asking God to bring you something to give your kids.
I promise you the most significant gift your children can ever receive from you, already exists within you.
Mountains of presents cannot compare to the love we give our children. There is not a single present my mother gave me at Christmas that I cherished more than the love, prayers, and sacrifices she made for us throughout the year.
Your children will not measure your love by gifts. They will measure it by your love and sacrifice.
When a small baby came into the world thousands of years ago. He gave up the comforts of heaven to live a simple and poor life on earth. He was born in a stable amongst the dirty animals and smelly barn. John Piper explains why Christ chose to become human despite the life and death he knew he would face: click: HERE
Jesus went on to walk dusty roads and have long tiring days of walking, preaching, and sharing God’s love with people. He didn’t even have a home to call his own. He sacrificed everything that was beautiful, rich and glorious to him, so his children could one day live in splendour.
We don’t love Jesus because he can give us fancy houses, cars, watches, Xbox, iPhones or dolls under a tree. We love him because he sacrificed everything he had, and his own life on a cross for his children.
He came to give life.
Peace. Joy. Happiness. Salvation. Hope.
Your love can uplift a child this Christmas. You may have nothing under the tree to give your son or daughter, but you have the greatest gift of all.
I promise you, this is what a child wants more than anything you can buy them with money.
My mother taught me this precious lesson I have never forgotten. Mom learned it from a heavenly father who showered her with love year after year when she spent Christmas alone with him.
When we came back at the end of every Christmas day, she always had a smile for her children. We saw her sacrifice, and it became Mom’s greatest gift to us.
True love cannot be wrapped and put under a tree when it is born in a manger. It was meant to be spread and shared every day of the year.
Jesus loves you and your children. He is the most precious gift that was ever given. He will be with you Christmas day even if there are no presents under your tree.
Share Christ’s love with your family. One day they will remember the precious gift you gave them.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” –Luke 2:10-12
Erin Ruscel says
Wow, Cindy! This post was absolutely beautiful and I totally bawled the whole time I read it! I loved reading about your childhood christmas’ and How your mom made those sacrifices- sounds like a wonderful lady. I also loved the way you included Jesus and His story into this post… what an amazing blessing! What an incredible story of love! Being a teacher, I see poverty a lot and it breaks my heart when a child’s parents are struggling and in turn the child is struggling. But something I wish more of them could see is that their son/ daughter would rather them be present for a concert, than get them something… they would rather them care. Some of the parents most definitely do care, but have to work all the time to provide and this can be misconstrued as the parents not caring. But I have also seen the other as well. So glad you had a mom that loved God and prayed for you and your siblings and what a blessing you are to your family now because of her prayers and sacrifice. This was really a joy to read. Thank you so much for sharing your story and your light!
Erin, you sound like such a loving and caring teacher. Thank you for this lovely comment, I’m so happy you enjoyed this post and also that you visited my blog. My mom truly was and still is a blessing in my life. Have a happy New Year!!!