Christmas that year was a tough one; nothing sparkled - not even our brightly lit tree.
Pressure to celebrate the joy during this season wasn't making it any easier. Each upbeat Christmas letter from our friends, telling about their successful lives and all the wonderful accomplishments of their children made me feel that my family's Christmas letter would read more like one from the Addams Family.
One of our teens was caught using drugs, one kept running away, and the household was anything but happy. Just to maintain some semblance of normalcy took all our effort. To add to the pressure, my husband was on the verge of losing his job, and I was battling panic attacks. Even my sense of humor, which usually pulled me through, was waning.
It was a battle with the "Grinch," and he was winning.
But I'm slowly learning that when the going gets tough, there's a powerful joy in challenging the imposing atmosphere. I'm learning I can rely on an infinite power beyond myself: the presence and power of divine Love. I'm finding that I don't have to wait for the situation to improve in order to rejoice, but that the courage to face up to the challenge and fight the battle is cause for satisfaction and gratitude.
Learning to love the uphill isn't always easy, but it's been inspiring when I can say "thank you" before the victory is won and count the blessings, even during the battle.
Discovering more of the divine presence called Love is like finding a light that lifts thought above the storms of earth and reveals the calm of spiritual beauty. That presence has revealed itself to me when there seemed no hope, and healing has resulted.
This was one of those times when I needed to be lifted.
Years earlier I had been introduced to a revolutionary book, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," which gives me spiritual tools when problems feel insurmountable.
The inspiring ideas in this book have opened my eyes to solutions and attitudes that have restored health and peace over and over again. So it was natural during this particularly stormy time for me to again turn to the ideas Mary Baker Eddy wrote about in this book - ideas such as, "Entirely separate from the belief and dream of material living, is the Life divine, revealing spiritual understanding and the consciousness of man's dominion over the whole earth" (page 14). These ideas brought me needed courage.
Every time some new challenge came up during that difficult Christmas season, I held to thoughts like that one, or I prayed to see beyond my fear. Thought by thought, I found the strength needed to face each day, but I didn't feel much peace or joy.
Then, one Wednesday evening close to Christmas, I was going to a testimony meeting at church. As I sat in my car in the parking lot, I debated whether I could even go inside because my eyes were so red from crying. I began to sing "O little town of Bethlehem," and by the time I got to the line, "The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight," the light burst through in my thought.
That was it! In that instant as I sang, I thought of "thee" as God, and I let go and gave all my heart to my divine Parent. I realized in that instant that I didn't need to hold it all together, feel sad about the failures, fear for the future, or lament the lost past or worry that we were not the "perfect" family. It was all met in divine Love, right then.
I simply needed to wake up to what the Christ message in Christmas was all about. It is about the presence of divine Love. I could be grateful for what I saw of that love today and leave the rest to God to keep until I discovered more of what life is all about.
A light in my heart started to shine, and I went to the meeting full of joy. What had felt like a dark sorrow was instantly turned into one of the merriest Christmas feelings I've ever had.
Years later, that moment is still a beacon of the meaning of Christmas, of a love that's always ours, under all conditions, safe in God's keeping.
It's about spiritual love that is never bound to the limits of earth but always shining and discoverable in our spiritual relationship to the source of all good, divine Love itself.
A Merry Christmas is here for each of us to discover as children of God.