An Eternal Christmas Gift

This true story tells how God worked a miracle and how my Aunt Dodie played a part. (The song below, Shepherd’s Night, is dedicated to her.)

An Eternal Christmas Gift

Two weeks before Christmas in 1978 I had a strange feeling that God was going to bless my family this Christmas like no other Christmas before. I had no idea what that blessing was, but I was sure we were in for a great heavenly gift. I told my four sisters, two brothers and mother that we were in for a good thing this year. “I don’t know what”, I said, “but I’m certain it will come!”

My  family tolerated me with a “yea, well that’s nice” kind of attitude and didn’t make much of it when I told them of the feeling. Perhaps the struggles we’d gone through in the previous few years made it too hard to believe anything good would happen to us.

My parent’s separation and divorce was very hard on everyone. Our family was torn apart. Some of us kids were with my father and some of us with our mother. Then we would switch around. We all wanted to be with both our parents so when we were with one, we were unhappy and wanted to be with the other. When we were allowed to go live with the other parent we wanted the other again. I can still remember the yearning in my heart for the missing parent. Don’t get me wrong, I was fortunate enough to have two parents that loved me and did everything they could to provide for me but the great rift that kept my parents apart also churned within my heart.

As the days drew closer to Christmas, I was all the more sure God had good tidings in mind for us and I had no inhibitions about saying so. A few days before Christmas, my Aunt Dodie invited some of the family members in the area to attend the Christmas Eve service at her church,  a nearby Lutheran Church. This would be a good chance for some of us to get together again. We planned to attend the midnight service together and celebrate Christmas at my mother’s apartment.

It was only a few months earlier that four of us were living with our mother and new step-father. Although a bit awkward with our step-father it seemed we were becoming accustomed to the arrangement, but I suppose my mother was not. She left one day and we didn’t see her for a couple weeks. I still don’t know where she went but she confided in me her reason many years later. In the mean time the stress was building. Our step-father became very unnerved about the situation and as I think back, so were we.

One day while my mother was still missing, one of my younger sisters failed to perform a bit of housework she was assigned. Our step-father became unreasonably furious about it. The stress had reached a breaking point. In his anger he made her leave the house and told her not to come back. As most families do, we fought with each other constantly but God help anyone that tried to hurt one of us. We would always become a united force to reckon with. So we all left in a beat-up station wagon and moved into an apartment building that had the right criteria: it was cheep, immediately available and no deposit required. The apartment was run down and worn out. We slept on the floor in our clothes. We had nothing. Very soon after, our mother returned and rented an apartment in a complex near us. She took in my two sisters. My younger brother and I stayed.

Now on my own with no responsibilities other than my self-sustaining brother I was free to live any way I wanted. Since the separation of my parents I had received less and less supervision and gradually grew into a life-style that was more and more corrupt. It seemed the more control I had over my own life I was given, the more nobody cared what I did. So I spiraled downward with every bad choice. The result was a very large void in my life.

Where once existed a full house of brothers and sisters was gradually reduced to a small empty and drab apartment. This was how my heart felt. I felt dirty, insignificant, having no value and no purpose in life. I tried to fill the empty and dark places with the life-style I had available to me. Alcohol, drugs and a party attitude continued to lead me to a dead-end. I wasn’t far from suicide at this time.  I had considered many methods in recent days. I was slowly losing the fear which hindered me from making this terrible mistake.

The midnight service at the Lutheran church contained nothing new for me nor anything I’d never seen before. Coming from a Roman Catholic background, I new well the feeling of being sanctimonious. The movement and words of the minister were all typical of a church meeting orchestrated to produce an artificial religious experience. None of this had any effect on me, calloused from years of religious propaganda. I looked past these man made devices in search of and expectation of God’s gift to my family. I was looking for something real.

Sitting in a row with my family and still having no idea of what this special blessing was, I received a box of candles, took one and past the box on. Shortly after, the light from a single candle began to spread throughout the building. I lit my candle and passed the flame along. As I looked at the dancing flame on my candle something happened. A feeling I had never felt before welled up within me. The feeling was very peaceful in a way and yet very urgent as it filled my mind with an intense thought, “I must find out!”.  I heard no words although the feeling was so strong it was almost audible. As I stared into the candle the thought contained a clear and complex message. It doesn’t make since but I immediately knew and understood the entire message and the message contained the urgency of a command. Contained in the thought “I must find out” the message demanded that I seek answers to questions. Is there a God? If there is a God I have to find him. Who is God? Where is He?  Which religion has the true God? What does He want from me?  I must find out!

I sat staring into my candle transfixed with amazement, then suddenly and sharply an elbow stabbed me in the ribs.

“Blow out your candle, stupid”, sneered one of my sisters (I don’t remember which).

The next morning, Christmas day, I woke up. Something was completely different. Nothing was different around me, I just felt different. I felt new, clean and full to the brim with the thought; the message; the command, “I must find out”.

As the family met together to open the gifts the feeling I had about God blessing my family had not come true the way I had expected it and I was a little sad about it. I felt a little let down and at the same time embarrassed because I had told everyone that God was going to give something wonderful to my family but He had given it only to me. Time would tell what a great gift I had actually received that night.

The next six months after Christmas I ate, slept, worked my shift and spent every available moment reading the bible. I don’t know the exact date that I asked the Lord into my heart or when I first believed and accepted Jesus as the savior of my soul. But I do know the day the Lord called me, December 24, 1978 at midnight, the night I received the command in the candle light “I must find out!” Somewhere within the six month period after I had accepted the facts about the gospel and my salvation.

I remember reflecting on the things I had learned. I realized that God sent His son Jesus to be like the lowest class of person. Punished for my sins. I remember asking Jesus, “What are you doing down there serving me as if you were of no stature! You are God! Why are you appearing to me so lowly. So lowly that You should be beaten and killed. I should be the lowly, the one of no stature. I deserve the beating and death”.

It was perplexing that I, the one who lived a godless life, would be blessed. I was the one that had a black burnt soul. I was the gutter-boy who deserved the terrible things done to Jesus.

This is the Christmas gift that God gave my family and to the whole world for that matter. He has taken every mean thing, every selfish act, every work of wrong I had ever done; removed it from me and put it on his own Son. And, He has done it for you. This is why I can say that Jesus is my Savior. Religious sounding words? Perhaps, but, He has saved me from a desolate hopeless  life and given me a new life filled with hope and promise.

My family was broken and scattered and my home an illusive dream. But God has invited me into a new family that is united in power and love. I have a place to call home regardless of its location. God himself is my Father. Side note: I still have a dad on this earth, (“Love you dad!”).

In the years since my salvation my lifestyle has changed. Not because of religious laws or commandments but because I am so grateful to God. I know now that these things are beneficial to not only me but all around me and most of all, they please God.

written by David Elder
revised on March 31, 2017
Creative Commons License

1 thought on “An Eternal Christmas Gift”

  1. David, this is a beautiful story that resonates your spiritual growth as well as the vulnerability of how you felt during the family breakup. I feel like I have learned something new about the family dynamic and you. And I know that my mother feels blessed with how you have honored her. Thank you!

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