The Christmas shortly after I turned 10 was one I’ll never forget. It was what I call my “One-and-Done, Lost-and-Found Christmas.”
The days leading up to that particular Christmas were filled with a lot of conflict that year, and I honestly can’t recall why. But the stress between my mom and stepfather was at an all-time high – at least according to my little-boy memories.
So perhaps it shouldn’t have surprised me (even though, looking back, it still does) that when my younger brother and I begged them to let us open our Christmas presents early that year, they agreed.
Well, they didn’t really both agree. My stepdad wanted to say “yes” – to our delight – but my mom objected.
On the evening of Dec. 20, only five days before Christmas, the final decision was made in a spectacularly emotional mix of arguments, shouting and excitement. We were told we could open our presents, but Mom was not going to stick around for the fun. She was leaving out of frustration to spend the night at my grandparents’ house.
My brother and I ripped into the gifts. Action figures. Games. Toys with batteries and lots of moving parts. (Some assembly required, of course.)
We spent the night playing and playing with those toys, then stayed up late to watch some TV in the living room – a rarity for us – where we eventually fell fast asleep on the floor.
In the middle of the night, a terrifying screeching sound woke us up. It took us a few seconds to realize that a smoke alarm was blaring. Black smoke thicker than the fogginess in our brains choked us. The house was on fire.
We panicked. We rushed onto a balcony off the back of the house, gasping for air and screaming for help to a few lonely houses in a valley far below our little house on a hill.
My stepfather’s strong grip jerked us back into the house. We moved cautiously towards the front door, briefly checking to see if the phone was working. It wasn’t. We wrapped up in blankets and made for our truck to drive the mile or so down the road to a local gas station to call the volunteer fire department.
When we returned, we watched as the fire crew tried to stop the fire’s progress and salvage what they could. We were thankful to be alive but in utter shock that all this was happening.
We lost everything to either fire damage, smoke damage or water damage. Everything.
The clothes, furniture and toys that we owned before that night were gone. And every new gift we had opened and played with that night was gone, too. One and done.
We basically had nothing.
In the following days we would learn that the fire had started in our basement, right under the bedroom that I shared with my brother. Our bedroom took the brunt of the fire damage and was nearly consumed.
Had we not been sacked out in the living room after playing with our presents five days before Christmas, we may very well have lost our lives.
We also learned how special simple gifts can be when you have nothing. The local fire department brought by some clothes and two board games for us: Scrabble and Monopoly. My mom still has those games to this day.
That night, at the tender age of 10, I lost everything I possessed. I lost the presents (some of them very cool presents), although I had the gift of one night to play with them.
But I also found out how the simplest gifts and gestures of kindness can be so meaningful. I realized how unimportant, in the great scheme of things, our possessions are. I learned the hard way how the gifts of life and love are greater than any else.
Perhaps you have a similarly difficult Christmas memory. If you haven’t before, I urge you to share those memories with your family this Christmas. Let them know what you are learning from those experiences.
And look for opportunities to help your family appreciate the simpler things. Gifts are expressions of love, and Christmas remind us of God’s great gift of Jesus (John 3:16 sums up that indescribable gift).
Ask your family: “What if we lost everything tomorrow? What would we have to be thankful for?” Sometimes it only takes a one-and-done, lost-and-found experience to help us truly appreciate the greatest gifts of all.
Won’t you share some thoughts on how you’ve learned to appreciate the important things in life? How are you sharing those lessons with your family this Christmas?
May the Lord bless you and keep you this Christmas. And thank You, Jesus, for Your love and for the gift of Yourself to us all.