Christmas Series: God Loves Us More At Christmas
Guest Post by Erin Belanger
Two years ago I was anticipating my first Christmas after my divorce. My finances were scant as I came home from a much needed Thanksgiving trip with my kids to Las Vegas where most of my siblings had gathered. The kids, ages 13, 11, 8 and 6, were excited about making wishlists and there was a slightly manic buzz about the idea of having two Christmases. I was not going to have them until the afternoon on Christmas day and my heart hurt a little bit at not spending Christmas Eve enjoying our rituals: fondue dinner, the annual nativity pageant put on with remnant fabric costumes and baby dolls, singing Christmas hymns, reading the goals we had set last year from the stocking for Jesus, putting cookies and milk by the fireplace, watching It’s a Wonderful Life with a cup of cocoa in hand. I was already tired trying to think how I was going to stretch the little bit of money I had to spend on Christmas to make this year not seem quite so different from all the others. I usually tried and failed to keep Christmas simple, but I was mourning the excess of year’s past. There was just no way I could see that Christmas would have quite the same magic when I had to do it on my own with limited means.
What I failed to remember is that God loves us more at Christmas. He softens hearts and inspires the whole of humanity to look around for someone in need or in pain to bless. At that time I was in both pain and need and heaven’s blessings were poured out upon my little home that Christmas season.
When I left Las Vegas I told my mom I was going to put a trampoline on layaway and that would be their only gift besides a few small things in their stockings. I wanted to do things on my own and I knew I would have a small paycheck from my new job subbing at the elementary school later that month that would cover the rest. I went the next day and put my $20 down and looked forward to buying it with my first earnings. I knew I was going to have to wait until the last minute for a tree, because they always marked them down the last week, but that was better than nothing. I usually had a small present that was opened by the child that found the *pickle ornament on the tree. Obviously, the trampoline couldn’t be wrapped, so I tried to think of something else I could give them that wouldn’t set me back. Stockings would be fruit and nuts and chocolate. They would be okay without the trinkets, that usually filled the leg of the stocking, right?
A few days into December, I was on the computer well after the kids were in bed and there was a loud knock at the door. I jumped and contemplated whether or not I should answer it at all given the late hour and my now vulnerable position as a single woman. I looked through the peephole, but I just saw darkness filling up the glass. When I opened the door, no one was around, but a huge Christmas tree with a big bow graced my doorstep. I cried for joy that someone had so thoughtfully granted me my heart’s wish for a tree to brighten up this dull season. It filled our home with the scent of pine and was deemed the most glorious one we had ever owned once all the lights and favorite ornaments were bending it’s branches. It was the first of many generous miracles.
The next Sunday a woman in my ward approached me about having her company provide presents for my kids. I turned her down immediately. “We’ll be fine,” I said. “The kids don’t need much and I am taking care of it.” On the way home, the spirit worked on my pride. They may not have needed much, but why was I standing in the way of them receiving a few extra things that they wanted and needed? Why was I going to take away the opportunity for someone to feel the joy of blessing another family? Why wasn’t I allowing the the Lord to bless us through others? I realized that I was holding onto this idea of bravely embracing my poverty. This Christmas was going to be a symbol of the broken promises that I had experienced this year. Pride in my poverty was an affront to my testimony of the blessings the Lord provides. I welcomed spiritual blessings, but I was denying myself and my kids physical blessings. I was humbled. I called her and accepted the offer and gave her their clothing and shoe sizes and wish lists. The relief of having someone else take care of their individual gifts was like giving away a weight I didn’t even realize I was carrying around. I breathed much easier as I looked forward to a Christmas that was beginning to look a lot more like what we were used to having.
The next Saturday I went to my ward’s Christmas party by myself. It was a little lonely, but I felt how much better I felt for having mingled with my loving friends and ward family than if I had stayed home alone. My divorce had been finalized earlier that week and I was expecting my first paycheck on Monday. I was feeling hopeful and happy. As I drove home, I listened to a voicemail from Walmart. My layaway needed to be picked up that day or it would be returned to the shelves. I panicked. I didn’t know how I was going to pay for it without my paycheck deposited. I called them back to see if they could give me some sort of deferment. The young man looked up my item and said that it had already been paid in full and I only needed to come pick it up. I had heard of these things happening to other people, but it was a first for me and I drove to the store in disbelief. As I waited for them to bring it out for me, the young man said that this was the only layaway that had been paid for anonymously. I hadn’t told anyone except my mother that I had gotten it, so it had to have been a random person choosing a random item to make Christmas a little brighter for someone else. Of course, I knew that it could not be random, because I know the Lord is mindful of us. He really wanted me to know that I am not alone and that He can bless me through people I know as well as those who don’t.
A few days later, the kids asked me about pets I had growing up. They had never had anything outside of a few Beta fish we had managed to kill. They were hurt that I had not allowed them the same privilege. I told them their father wouldn’t allow it. They reminded me that he no longer lived with us. I took their request to heart. When they had left for their dad’s to spend the weekend through Christmas morning, I headed to the pet store. The plan was to buy a bird or some rodent that would stay in a cage and not care if we were around to entertain it. Something that would not need vet visits. Cages were a little more expensive than I had anticipated, though. Then, I made the happy mistake of walking past the shelter animals that were there to be adopted. I asked about the physical needs for a cat and crunched all the numbers in my head as I walked around collecting a litter box and litter, food, a carrier, and a few toys. It was much less than the cages. I then let myself fall in love. They put two kittens in my arms that jumped right out of them and played. The third was all black with green eyes and when she was placed in my arms, she melted and purred. This was going to be our Christmas Cat, and I already named her. “Pickles”, for the pickle ornament that would determine the child that would unwrap the empty carrier that would be under the tree.
When the kids arrived on Christmas day, they had already had a morning of presents and partying. Their excitement of seeing another tree with presents flowing out from it was was a pleasure. My youngest son spied the trampoline in the backyard and would not be kept from it for anything. My youngest daughter saw the pickle right away and declared herself the winner and proceeded to unwrap the carrier while I opened the door to the bedroom I had shut her into while I waited for their arrival. They tore through the presents and squealed at the skateboards and new dresses. Their cheeks hurt from smiling by the end of the day as we cuddled on the couch after our fondue dinner, sipping our cocoa and watching It’s a Wonderful Life. I understood more than ever how George Bailey felt surrounded by friends willing to bless and support him in his trials.
The kids were overjoyed and their joy consumed me and made me grateful beyond anything I have ever experienced before or since. These gifts were all just things. Things most people had no trouble obtaining for themselves or others, but to me, each gift was a symbol of my Heavenly Father’s attention to the physical, spiritual and emotional needs of my children and myself. This year the kids will be with their dad on Christmas, but he lives far away now and I won’t see them for two and a half weeks. However, because of the experience of this first post-divorce Christmas, I know the Lord loves me and them. He will comfort our hearts in our separation and will provide a way for all our needs to be met and for us to be the means to bless others. Merry Christmas to all of you and may you feel the love of our Heavenly Father and our Savior through every small and big miracle that happens in your life this year.
*Traditionally, an ornamental pickle is placed on a Christmas tree as one of the Christmas decorations after the children go to bed. On Christmas morning, the first child to find the pickle on the tree would receive an extra present from Santa Claus or would be said to have a year of good fortune. We were introduced to this tradition by a family that claimed it was part of their German background, though I’ve never met a German who actually knew about it. I have since learned that it probably originated in the United States in the late 19th century as a marketing ploy, but nonetheless, I love the tradition and intend to keep it until my great grandkids tell me to stop.