About ten years ago, I had a public disagreement with someone who was the leader of an organization that I was and still am a part of. We were planning a trip for a large number of young girls, and we were at odds over the logistics of the trip. After causing a bit of a scene, this person ended the meeting and then called the “higher ups” to complain about my alleged coup. A friend, who was at the meeting, asked me, “Does she know about everything you’re going through right now?” After I shook my head to say no, she replied, “You should tell her. She shouldn’t be treating you like that.”
You see, my grandmother had recently had a debilitating stroke and was going downhill fast; my father had just been diagnosed with cancer, again; one of our daughters was really struggling with bullies at school, and we were in the process of trying to figure out how to send all three girls to the Catholic school where we so desperately wanted them to be anyway. To make matters worse, Ken had unexpectedly resigned from his job after life in the political limelight became too much for us all; and just when I had decided to stay home and try to get my writing career started, a tumor was discovered on my uterus and would require surgery and a biopsy. It seemed that my entire world was falling apart before my eyes, but very few people actually knew the whole of what we were facing. Ken wasn’t sleeping at all at night because he worried about us losing everything if he didn’t find a job. Our daughter cried uncontrollably every morning when I tried to put her on the bus, and our savings was quickly being depleted with no hope in sight. But it all taught me some very important lessons.
First, have faith, always. I never let my faith waiver. I knew that, despite both us being out of work, God was going to provide. I knew that if He wanted our children to change schools, He would make it happen. I knew that whatever was to come, we could face it together. The story of how we overcame all of this can be saved for another day, but suffice it to say that God came through in some very miraculous ways. Yes, faith the size of a mustard seed can indeed move mountains.
Another very important thing I learned was that while I was suffering inside, so, too, might this other person have been suffering. I knew very little about her. I had never met her before joining this group, and after this incident drove her to quit the organization, I never saw her again. I often wonder if things might have turned out differently had I taken the time to get to know her, to talk to her, to ask her if everything was okay. Perhaps she wasn’t upset with me or our group at all. Perhaps there was something bigger going on in her life, and she felt things spiraling out of control just as I had. Maybe planning this trip was too much for her with whatever else was going on. Sadly, I’ll never know. In all honesty, I can’t say I’ve gotten better at this, but I do try to be a little more empathetic.
Finally, we all have opportunities to reach out to and help one another. Not only my faith in God, but my friends and family got me through one of the hardest times in my life. Though very few people knew the whole story, those who did became my rocks. They prayed for me, brought my family meals after my surgery, cleaned my house, and took care of my children. And over the years, I’ve tried to repay them and pay it forward.
We’re in the season of Advent. It’s a time of preparation but also a time of healing, of sharing, of reaching out to others. There is so much that we can do, in ways both large and small, to have an impact on the lives of others. Take your children to drop off gifts at a homeless shelter or a prison. Support your local organizations that help those in need (look for a St. Vincent de Paul Society near you and ask how you can help). Bake cookies for the shut-in across the street, and spend time with her when you deliver them. Call an old friend or family member who you haven’t seen or spoken to in a while. Let go of old grudges, and forgive. Open your heart to the relatives you’d rather not spend time with. Ask them how they are, and let them know you care.
I remember one Christmas, many, many years ago. I might have been seven or eight, but I’m really not sure. There was a report on the news about a poor family in DC who not only had no presents but no clothes, no food, and no heat. I think there was a new baby in the house, and the family would be lucky to make it through Christmas. If my parents looked at each other with sadness as we watched the story, I didn’t notice. When they discussed it, I don’t know. How they found out where this family lived, I have no idea. But one evening, my father came home and loaded us all into his car. We drove into the city, going to a neighborhood we wouldn’t have entered during the day, not to mention at night. When the mother opened the door, we all stood on her front step with wrapped presents, bags of clothes, and food. I’ll never forget her tears or the way she hugged us all. I’ll never forget the looks on the faces of the little children as they reached for their presents. Maybe some of these details are a little mixed up. Maybe I invented half of them with the imagination of a child who witnessed something akin to a miracle, but this is how I remember it. I couldn’t tell you what I got for Christmas that year. To be honest, we didn’t have extra money growing up, so it wouldn’t surprise me if some, maybe all, of those wrapped presents were meant for us. What I do remember is that there never was and never will be another Christmas quite like that one.
So maybe you can’t solve all of the world’s problems this holiday season. Maybe you can’t supply Christmas for a needy family. But I bet you can find something to do to brighten someone’s day, to make their holiday a little more joyous. Look beyond what you see in each person and what you think you know about them, and find a reason to love them anyway. And let them know it. When Christmas arrives, you will be more than prepared. You will be lighting the way.
Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her book, Picture Me, is the recipient of an Illumination Award, placing it among the top three inspirational fiction eBooks of 2015. Her most recent book, Whispering Vines, is available for purchase; and her next novel, Island of Miracles, will be released in January of 2017.
You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com.
Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016)