Christmas is to us so special in many ways. We celebrate with gratitude the gift of life to be fully experienced through Christ. A lifetime of precious memories will be replayed by all of us.
The holidays are challenging for our family with the loss of our youngest daughter Robin three days after Christmas last year. We are grateful for the expressions of love, concern and prayers shared by friends and those who heard of her passing. Thank you all so much. The fact is, our broken hearts are being healed by the grace, comfort and divine enabling that is made possible because of the birth we now celebrate. He alone is able “to bind up the broken hearted.” All praise to Him and we live to exalt Jesus while also seeking to help heal other broken hearts. As you may be reflecting on the loss of a loved one, a job, health or other challenges, our prayers are with you. We care!
My commentary last week emphasized the importance and powerful effect of forgiveness. I began learning that great lesson following a sad Christmas many years ago.
I was born in poverty, the result of a forced sexual relationship. After my birth my mother placed an ad in the newspaper asking for someone to care for her little boy. A pastor and his wife, Rev. and Mrs. H.D. Hale, responded to the ad. They took me into their home and I stayed with them until I was five years old. I called them Mommy and Daddy.
On numerous occasions, my mother would come and visit me and take me away for short periods of time. It was always difficult, but the Hales explained to me that this was “Mother” and they were “Mommy and Daddy.” Although confused, I tried to accept it. I would spend many lonely days and nights with people I didn’t know while my mother ran errands and took care of other matters.
Apparently, the short visits were not enough for my mother. When I was five years old, she came and took me away from my mommy and daddy. I remember hiding under the bed and digging my fingernails into the wooden floor as she pulled me, kicking and screaming, from beneath the bed. I did not want to go, but I had no choice.
We departed the Houston area and went to Austin, where for the next ten years I moved at least fifteen times from one difficult situation to the next. To say we were poor almost seems an understatement. Among the things I cherished most, however, were the few times that Rev. and Mrs. Hale would visit or send me gifts. I also had an aunt on my father’s side who was always kind to me and would send me gifts on special occasions. Her name was Roberta Robison. I called her Aunt Berta.
On each birthday and at Christmas, I looked forward to hearing from Mommy and Daddy Hale and Aunt Berta. They would invest in toys and clothes, which I badly needed and enjoyed. I appreciated these gifts because I never had nice things. More significantly, it felt good being remembered by those who loved me.
The year approaching my ninth birthday, we were living in a small, one-room house on the back side of a dump. The address was 1107 1/2 Holly Street. It cannot be found in Austin today, as it has been totally renovated. The Colorado River, which once ran uncontrollably through the dingy area, has now been made into a beautiful lake.
As a youngster, living in east Austin was anything but nice. But on my birthday, I didn’t care about my surroundings. All that was on my mind were the birthday gifts that I expected to arrive. As the minutes and hours ticked by that day, I came to the realization that there was nothing for me. Not from Mommy and Daddy, not from Aunt Berta. I was dismayed and waited anxiously for a few days, a week, and then weeks. Nothing came. Not a word. I thought, How could the people who love me so much forget my birthday?
I cannot adequately describe the feelings that tore my heart. I thought Mommy and Daddy loved me. They always said they wanted to be with me. I truly believed my Aunt Berta and care about me, too, but how could they possibly forget me?
I made excuses, thinking, October 9 is not a particularly memorable day—but everyone remembers Christmas. I bet when Christmas comes, they will make it up to me. I felt a glimmer of hope.
As Christmas approached, I colored a picture of a tree on a 2-feet-by-3-feet piece of paper. I painted some ornaments on the tree and decorated it. The painted picture hung on the wall over a card table. That was our Christmas tree.
I saw a couple of small gifts under the tree that my mother had sacrificed to provide. But I was waiting for the gifts to come from those who thought about me often and could afford to give me something special. I was so filled with anticipation that I could not sleep on Christmas Eve. I waited for Christmas to come. I waited for the gifts.
On Christmas Day my mother and I sat in front of that plain piece of paper with the colorful tree. There were no other gifts. They never did come. My heart was crushed. I cried for weeks, because I felt forgotten. As this feeling took root, I convinced myself: “You can’t trust people. Those who say they love you cannot be trusted. They don’t really mean it. They don’t really love you.”
For years, both occasions were the same. The effects were devastating enough that they could have destroyed my future. But all of that was about to change.
When I was 14 years old, my mother decided I could call Mommy and Daddy and visit them for one week. With excitement, I called them; and at the sound of my voice, they began to weep. They said they missed me deeply.
The next day they came to get me. I discovered how desperately they wanted to see me and how much they loved me. Still, I was confused about the past few years, beginning with my ninth birthday.
During the trip, wonderful things happened. The young people at Memorial Bapist Church, where Rev. Hale pastored, helped me see that Jesus is alive—that He was not only born, but He can live in us. They also explained that He died for our sins. Mrs. Hale had asked the church to pray for me, and during the Sunday evening invitation, she made her way up the aisle with tears running down her cheeks and asked me if I wanted to know Jesus. That night I gave my life to the Christ who God gave to us that first Christmas.
While I was visiting the Hales, they assured me that they had not forgotten me. In fact, they had sent me birthday and Christmas gifts throughout the years, but I had never received them because my mother had returned them with a note saying they would not be accepted. She asked them not to send any more. Our telephone number, when we had one, was not provided. My mother would not give them our address, and because we moved so often, it was difficult to track us.
I did not understand why she cut us off. My first feelings were anger, bitterness, hostility, and even hatred toward my mother. How could she do something so thoughtless, so heartless? But when I returned home, God’s grace began to take effect. Suddenly, the true meaning of Scripture—that He became poor so that we through His poverty might be rich—began to find expression in my own heart.
My mother’s parents died when she was very young—her mother passed away when she was nine and her father died when she was eleven. As a young girl, she married a man who said he loved her, and yet their marriage did not last. Many men said they loved my mother, but they hurt her and broke her heart. My own father forced himself on her. As a result of being used and abused, my mother lived a lonely life full of heartache and pain. Now she had a son—a little boy who loved his mother!
She wanted someone to focus their love and attention on her, and when she saw others who had the means to give me nice gifts, she saw the potential for my heart to be pulled away—for me to be drawn toward those with more ability to provide. She did not want me to become distracted or to lose my devotion. She wanted somebody to love her.
I understand the great need my mother had for somebody to love her for who she was—and I did. Although I was hurt by what she did, God’s gift through His Son enabled me to rise above that experience and pain, to live a life full of mercy, grace, and forgiveness for others.
“We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). When I consider His love for us and the gift He gave on that first Christmas, my heart rejoices. After that Christmas without gifts, I began learning about the powerful effect forgiveness has on us personally and on others.
Betty and I pray you will experience the miracle of healing you seek this Christmas. We celebrate the birth and the life of the One who walks with us through the “valley of any shadow” and lifts us up to “soar as an eagle” on the wings of His love and grace. His Name is Immanuel – God with us!