Monday, November 28, 2016

Christmas Miracles Part One of Two

Christmas is my favourite time of the year. I grew up in a large, poor family of 11. Daily life was a struggle, but somehow my mom always managed to make Christmas magical. I always believed that Santa brought the Christmas tree, decorated it, and delivered presents, which were piled under the tree. It wasn’t until many years later that I discovered the truth behind the Christmas tree. 

The sales people at the Christmas tree lots would stay open very late; but when it was clear that no more customers would be arriving—and not wanting to take the remaining trees with them—they would cover the trees with snow before they left the lot. Then, the poor families in town would send a couple of members to dig out the trees and take them home to set up in their homes. It was a challenging late night activity, and many families (like ours) didn’t have cars, so they had to use creativity to haul the trees home (e.g., some precariously balanced them on wagons, while others dragged them along the streets).

Yes, Christmas was magical; but it was more than that, because we went to Sunday school every week. So, it was clear to me that this was Jesus’ birthday that we were celebrating, and I loved hearing the Christmas story being read. However, in a deep-freeze, in March of 1968 our 2-storey home burned down to the ground, and my 4-year old baby brother, Shawn, died when he got trapped in the upstairs of our home. I was 8 years old when it happened. I was very confused by the anger my older siblings were expressing toward God, blaming Him for what had happened, and not being able to make sense of the frightening circumstances that left us, in the dead of winter, with no food, clothing, or shelter—and no insurance. Thankfully, people in the two churches that we attended (Pentecostal church on Sunday mornings; The Salvation Army outpost Sunday school in the afternoons) and neighbours opened their hearts and homes to us. With such a large family, this meant that we were divided up. Two of my brothers and I stayed with a not-well-known-to-us neighbour; I had no idea where the rest of my family was, and I was deeply afraid that I wouldn’t see them ever again.

Eventually, my parents located a house that would become our home, but it was in a different town. So, there were lots of transitions, including to new schools. Throughout the many changes, there were the feelings of fear, anxiety, anger, and pain that were expressed by my family. I was in a state of bewilderment, which only increased when we were taken to the funeral home to see Shawn’s tiny and closed casket. I wondered when he would be coming home—I didn’t understand death, and nobody took time to explain it. The only thing that others said to me was, “You have to be a big girl and help your mother;” which made no sense to me, because I was one of the three youngest kids.
End Part One

Blessings & Peace
Elizabeth Hayduk
Former Salvation Army Officer (pastor)

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