(Written by my mother, Andrea Maher) I love Christmas. I never tire of the beauty of this season—from the gaily blinking lights to the colorful ornaments and soft glow of candlelight in the evening hours. Every single sight brings back memories of Christmases past, and I am young again in my heart.
Each year, side by side with my long Christmas “to do” list is the sincere vow that I am going to keep my focus on Christ—the person behind the holiday. But I am quickly drawn into the hustle and bustle of festive activities, and Christ is just as quickly left behind as an afterthought.
Christmas 2005 would change all of that. You see, that year Jesus himself visited my home. There’s something surreal that happens to a person’s mind and body when they receive the shock that a loved one has suddenly died. There is no perfect time of the year for that news—especially not Christmas. It is the one holiday that honors a birth—a birth that promised peace on earth and good will toward men. It is the one season when daily life virtually stops its busy routine and adopts an exciting pace of endless get-togethers, gift-giving, and religious celebrations. Christmas has always had a certain look and feel—warm and cozy and joyful anticipation.
Ten days before Christmas 2005, State troopers entered my home to deliver the news of my oldest son’s death. To this day, there remains in my mind the vivid contrast between two worlds that collided at that moment right where I was standing: the brightly decorated house radiating Christmas cheer and the thick shroud of smothering fog that enveloped my spirit.
The look and feel of Christmas had dramatically changed. I suddenly learned that when a loved one dies during this season, the surrounding scenery becomes tragically commonplace. Even the simplest task of plugging in the lights is forgotten in the stupor.
Then, without any fanfare, without any ringing of the bells or carolers caroling, there in the midst of the confusion, fear, and anxiety Christ appeared. He was the first one I went to as I fell into prayer with my friends by my side. In the agonizing days and nights that followed, I focused solely on His purposes and how the events around me fit into the bigger—the eternal picture. I learned of His comfort in the darkness and how He hears—and soothes the groaning of our hearts.
I saw His face in the people who took over the details of planning a funeral. I had never seen His face this clearly when I had been planning the menu for my Christmas party.
I felt His touch in the numerous acts of mercy and compassion that came pouring in from cards, flowers, kind words, baskets of food, and unexpected gestures such as the dear ones who planted a memory garden. I had never felt His touch this strongly when I had been opening yet another present of jewelry or the latest must-have fashion piece.
I knew His intimate leading in my life when I discovered my son’s journal. I had read it previously, but now I consumed it feverishly since his written words were all that were left. My son’s writing became precious, personal, and significant; and I realized, as I had never realized before, the precious and personal significance of Christ’s written word.
The only soothing sounds to my soul that Christmas were affirmations from others that Christ lives and that my son was at peace with Him in Heaven, experiencing the best of all celebrations. To my amazement, it dawned on me that everyone who entered my house was focused on the true meaning of Christmas, the person of Christ. It was the most natural conversation for the occasion.
So as I put up my decorations again this year, they serve as reminders that what was will never be the same again. My son’s memory is now forever entwined with the celebration of Christ’s birth, which also encompasses His sufferings and His victory over death, and it is that knowledge that makes this holiday even more special to me.