Friday, December 23, 2005

The Most Terrible Time of the Year

Christmas has morphed from a religious celebration into other things. To many it's all about renewing tradition -- the shopping, the baking, the songs, the decorations. To others it comes down to family and that gathering of brothers, sisters, cousins and grandparents. Still others think in terms of gifts. At this point, Christmas is at least as much secular as it is religious. So when many people's calendars work their way around to December, a whole different set of feelings come bubbling to the surface.

Tonight, Blanche is sitting at home alone. It would be her wedding anniversary if her husband had lived. For over fifty years they shared the same home. Now the old house seems almost huge. Kids and grandkids keep watch over her from time to time, but this year she celebrates a wedding anniversary alone. Three days later she'll spend her first Christmas without him. Pray for Blanche and all those like her.

Rob and Karen's kitchen is lined with cupboards, but they are empty. Fortunately they don't have children. It's just the two of them... and the baby who is due in February. A holiday layoff from Rob's employer has cut the meager amount the young pair have been living on, but it has enabled them to drive three hours to stay with family for two weeks. After that, their struggle will continue since Rob's parents can barely afford to take car of themselves. Pray for Rob and Karen and all those like them.

Yolanda is worried. For four years she has battled cancer, winning only temporary victories before the dreaded disease returns. Yesterday she had two more lumps removed. The surgery was minor, but the implications are major. She knows full well that the doctors will want her to go through chemotherapy again, but the last round of chemo almost killed her. Yolanda wonders if it's worth it to continue the fight. Her husband says he'll support her either way. Tonight she's wondering if this Christmas will be her last. Please pray for Yolanda and her husband and the many in similar situations.

Walter is becoming an old hand at spending the holidays alone. His wife passed away years ago. To some, she is but a distant memory. But in Walter's heart, her absence is just as large as it was right after the funeral. Of course no one understands. They assume that his wife is a treasured remembrance from the past, but hardly an open wound. They are wrong. Remember Walter and those like him in your prayers.

Andy and Michelle have questions, but few answers. Their daughter ended her life over the weekend. There were signs of trouble, but nobody expected this. A young life is over. A beautiful girl lost. And her parents are left this Christmas to comfort one another, and to grieve at a time when they should be welcoming their child home for the holidays.

Under the tree are but two presents. Martha is raising her kids alone and has received no help at all from the absent father. Working two jobs and depending upon the kindness of neighbors and friends has meant that the bills are almost caught up, but there has been no time spent with her precious children. Then, to top it all off, there is no money for Christmas presents. A local charity dropped off a present for each of the kids so at least they'll have something to open. But Martha is dejected at the thought of not even being able to provide just a small gift for her children. Pray for Martha and her kids, and for all the struggling single parent families.

My Christmas will be wonderful. My family will gather for food and gifts on Christmas Eve, then comes the Candlelight Service at church. Afterward we'll visit a local live nativity scene at another church. On Christmas Morning, the kids will open presents before we drive to my wife's family's for dinner and more presents. We'll eat until we're stuffed. We'll bring back so many presents that the van will barely handle the load. We'll spend time with loved family members and collapse on the bed, exhausted, on Sunday night. I hope that your Christmas will go something like mine. But in the meantime, don't forget about the people I've described. I've changed the names, but the situations are very real. And the grief, the uncertainty and the hardship they are feeling are real as well.

So I ask you to pray. And if all possible, find some way to help out those folks less fortunate over the next week. Because while it may be "the most wonderful time of the year" to many of us, to others it's too hard to bear.

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