Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Ghost of Christmas Past

When Sir Knight and I moved our family to a little shouse on the prairie, with no electricity, no running water and a pitifully low bank account, we had no idea what the future had in store.

The fall that we moved in, we optimistically anticipated having running water and a flushing toilet within 3 weeks.  We thought we would have drains and at least a light bulb or two within a month.  As it turned out, our estimations were grossly underestimated.  We finally had running water (cold only) and a flushing toilet about 1 year after moving in and nary a light bulb for six months after that.

The first winter of our new life was nothing short of life changing.  We showered at a fitness center in town about twice a week (whether we needed to or not!), washed our clothes in a galvanized tub on the top of the wood cookstove, ate lentil burgers and read stories by lantern light.  Our life had taken a drastically different turn.  As much as we tried to embrace our off-grid existence, the stress began to  to take its toll.

Apparently, others noticed our reduced circumstances.  One afternoon, a car I didn't recognize drove up our driveway.  I stepped out of the door and was greeted by an pleasant looking older woman.  She asked if I had a moment and I showed her into the kitchen (such as it was).  The children were busy at their school work in the light of the Petromax and stew bubbled on the wood cookstove.  The lady introduced herself as Sister Dolores, a nun with the local mission.  As Sister Dolores and I visited, she explained the reason for her visit.  The mission Sister Dolores served sponsored a needy family every Christmas.  They put together food baskets and gifts and did their best to brightened an otherwise cloudy holiday for a family in need.  I was immediately taken.  I told her we would love to help.  What did they need?  How could we make a difference?  She looked at me for a moment with a puzzled expression.  Turning toward me she said, "Dear, you are the family we wanted to help".

I couldn't believe my ears.  Never, in a million years would I have considered my family "needy".  We had a roof over our heads, food in our tummies and a warm place to sleep at night.  Our family was whole.  My husband had a job.  We had family that loved and supported us.  We wanted for nothing.  Stammering, I told Sister Delores that we couldn't possibly accept their generous charity.  There must be someone out there that was truly needy.  Disappointed, she shook her head.  "We haven't been able to find a needy family that hasn't already taken advantage of every social program available" she said.  "We thought we had finally found a family that would really appreciate help.  We thought we would really be able to make a difference.  Many people have asked for assistance but they already take advantage of commodities, food stamps and subsidized housing - what can we offer them?".

I apologized to Sister Delores for not being able to accept her generosity and offered to help in any way we could in the event they found another family to bless.  When she left I took a moment to reflect on our conversation.  I was humiliated.  How could people think that we were needy?  My pride was wounded.  I was humbled.  But that was just the beginning.

As we prepared for Christmas, an awful truth came to light.  We had no money.  We were able to meet our obligations and feed our family (if meagerly) but we certainly had no extra money to spend on gifts.  Now, I had been raised in a Christian household.  I knew the true meaning of Christmas.  I knew (in my head) that it wasn't about gifts or boxes or bags, it was about celebrating the birth of Christ, but my pride got in the way.  I didn't want to show up at my folks empty handed.  My brother and his wife would be there.  They would have bought us presents.  My parents would have gone all out.  Sir Knight and I would have nothing to offer.

Truth be told, Sir Knight and I didn't want to make the trip over the river and through the woods to grandmothers house.  We were embarrassed.  We could skip the family gathering this year - right?  Nobody would really miss us.  But, then, there were the children.  How would we explain to them that we weren't going to Grandma and Grandpa's?  How could we face them on Christmas morning with nary an orange in their stocking?

We determined that we would have to come up with something.  We started to put together baskets with things we could make.  Hot Cocoa powder, Russian Tea mix, homemade soap and tea cozies filled the baskets, along with some homemade cookies and candy.  We made up two baskets, one for my parents and one for my brother and sister-in-law.  They were pitiful and small and I was embarrassed.  Wanting to do a little something more, Sir Knight picked out a range finder that he had bought when we were flush and wrapped it for my dad.  I chose my favorite candlesticks to give to my mom.

We sang as we drove, heralding our Saviors birth.  Knowing that we didn't have one gift for any of our children was sobering, but we chose to make the best out of the situation.  As we unloaded our car, I wanted to hide our meager offerings.  My pride kept getting in the way.

Christmas morning arrived.  The children never realized that we hadn't gotten them anything.  They were thrilled to be at grandma and grandpa's house, reveling in Christmas.  We sang "Happy Birthday" to Jesus, attacked our stockings with a vigor and snuggled on the couch eating chocolate snowmen way too early in the morning.  Finally, it was time to open presents.  Gifts were passed out, one by one bringing delight to the recipient.  Dad was thrilled with his range finder (I suspect that he knew Sir Knight had given his own treasure) and Mom loved her candlesticks.  Although I did  my best to hide our gift baskets, they were eventually uncovered.  First, my sister-in-law took possession of hers.  She pulled each item out, oohed and aahed and told us how wonderful they were.  "I could never make soap" and "You really make your own Hot Cocoa?".  My mom, too, lauded our efforts.  "I love the basket you picked out, Enola.  It will be perfect to hold kindling next to the fireplace".  "Oh, you made my favorite candy.  You know I never could make this as well as you".   My embarrassment began to fade as the light of truth began to dawn.  We were loved not because of the things we could buy or the way we could contribute.  That was my pride talking.  The reality is, nobody cared what we did or didn't buy.  They cared only that we were there.  It was that simple.

I have learned that what we did the first year we lived here was appropriate.  We didn't have any money.  It would have been inappropriate for us to have gone out and spent a lot of money. We gave what we had.  And that was right.

I thought we had to have presents to celebrate Christmas.  I was wrong.  We just had to be willing to humble ourselves - only when we humbled ourselves were we able to be embraced in the love of family.  And so it is with God.  We don't have to present ourselves as perfect, we just have to humble ourselves and bend our knee.


  1. Wow, what a beautiful testimony to the real meaning for Christmas. Thank you! "God Bless Us Everyone!"
    --K in OK <><

  2. Inspiring Story Enola.

    My mother grew up on a ranch in New Mexico without electricity in harsh conditions. I hear her stories all the time. My Grandfathers ranch was off the grid before off the grid was fashionable.

    This country has lost the meaning of Christmas. Most of my nieghbors has decorated thier houses with Christmas lights and other stuff. My house is a Christmas free zone. Nothing, not evan a tree (with no wives or kids I can get away with it)
    I want to be a scrooge, ba humbug! No commercialism here.
    (Your a mean one Mr. Grinch) From the old Dr. Suess cartoon. The only Christmas song I like.

    I did order myself a Spikes Tactical AR stripped lower (Im gonna do my first AR build) I got the Zombie Model, check it out online.
    Im ready for them "Christmas Zombies",

    Ba Humbug!

  3. Thank you for the excellent timing of this column. We are in a much tighter financial situation this year than we have ever been and expecting it to get tighter. Christmas is smaller in gifts this year. I needed this reminder that it isn't smaller in love.
    Thank you,
    Stuck in CA

  4. Enola,

    I give gift baskets to our family members from our farm production.
    Jams, jellies, teas, cider, mead, dried herbs,
    cured meats and jerky, spun creamed honey, cheese and pickled eggs.

    There is nothing more precious than to give a gift that comes from the artful skills of your own hands and made with a loving heart.

    Family IS the greatest gift of all!

    God bless you and yours!


  5. One of the things we are doing this year is stopping the obligatory gift exchanges between our siblings and ourselves. Everyone agreed that we all knew we loved each other, that we didn't need physical gifts to prove it, that it was a financial stress this year especially, that we'd rather put our money and/or time/effort into gifts for the children, since they are still young enough to enjoy it. I think it will make the Christmas season more meaningful, rather than less. Assuming the MIL doesn't blow a gasket when she find out (she stomped all over the idea the first time we broached it a couple years ago).

    Merry Christmas to you and yours, Enola!

    Xa Lynn

  6. This is a lovely, thought provoking, heart felt post that brought a tear to my eyes. Not because I felt sorry for you but because of your strength and witness to true love, only to show the world God's precious love for us. You are truly blessed and I pray for countless blessings be poured upon your family.

  7. Thank you for sharing that story, Enola. We all need to be reminded every now and again of what is truly important.

    My grown kids are getting home dried fruits and vegetables and homemade cookies. We had money for a book for each, so they are getting that, too. The youngest is getting a sled, but it doubles as a wood carrying tool and as it is his job to bring the wood everyday, it's was a practical choice, too. What little boy that lives with complete snow cover at least 7, more often 8 months a year, doesn't need a sled? The biggest expense was shipping two of the boxes to kids that won't be making it home, as their work and their budgets do not allow it. Two will be home, so we saved on shipping there, but will probably try to help with their gas expense. They will drive straight through to save on hotels, taking turns sleeping. Oh, to be young again! My brother only wants a home cooked meal and we only want his presence for our gift.

    While shopping for the powdered sugar and more flour to make the cookies and the homemade rolls the kids also want, the point was driven home to me that even if money were no object, this was the way to celebrate Christmas. I didn't see too many happy adults and witnessed far too many screaming, crying little ones to justify having a commercial Christmas. It was insane. Too many people, trying to "buy" just the right thing.

    I was just humming, "Little Drummer Boy"...

  8. An honest mistake and a good example of what charity or aid to the poor should be, i.e. a real human capable of evaluating need and the appropriateness of the charity. If our government would allow good people to help where needed we could save in excess of $1.2 trillion a year at the federal level and a similar amount across the 50 state governments.

  9. Such a great story! My favorite Christmases have been the ones where we had the least money and we've had to crank up the creative juices to make things. Homemade, handmade or really well thought out presents are the best.

  10. Your lifestyle is to be applauded and duplicated for the values you hold dear. You have taught us all so much, and the joy of learning to do things with your own hands. I fear that many Americans will be forced to adopt your way of life as we continue down our path towards destruction. I pray they can embrace the simpler life, and at the very least, find themselves on their knees. Thank you for sharing!

  11. Thank you so much for sharing so transparently how the Lord has worked in your lives. It brought back some sweet memories from our Christmas pasts. But, I also had the twinge from the year that our lovingly-homemade gifts were openly mocked. However, we were so filled with the love of Jesus that we really didn't mind. Too much. May our Lord Bless your preparations this year.

  12. Last year, our Christmas was just like your "gost Christmas"... With a new born baby, I felt so bad... And this year, we choose to help people who need some little extra, just because we are so thankful because our year is financially better... Thanks for sharing your experience!!

  13. enola, are you sure you are not related to me in some way...we are so alike in our stories. we are all so blessed!

  14. this brought tears to my eyes Enola

    may God love you and your family

    Merry Christmas

  15. Enola, you are so right and so loved. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

    NoCal Gal

  16. http://www.ewtn.com/devotionals/prayers/humility.htm

    O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
    From the desire of being esteemed,
    ""Deliver me, Jesus.""
    From the desire of being loved..."" ""
    From the desire of being extolled ..."" ""
    From the desire of being honored ..."" ""
    From the desire of being praised ..."" ""
    From the desire of being preferred to others..."" ""
    From the desire of being consulted ..."" ""
    From the desire of being approved ..."" ""
    From the fear of being humiliated ..."" ""
    From the fear of being despised..."" ""
    From the fear of suffering rebukes ..."" ""
    From the fear of being calumniated ..."" ""
    From the fear of being forgotten ..."" ""
    From the fear of being ridiculed ..."" ""
    From the fear of being wronged ..."" ""
    From the fear of being suspected ..."" ""

    That others may be loved more than I,
    ""Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.""

    That others may be esteemed more than I ..."" ""
    That, in the opinion of the world,
    others may increase and I may decrease ..."" ""
    That others may be chosen and I set aside ..."" ""
    That others may be praised and I unnoticed ..."" ""
    That others may be preferred to me in everything..."" ""
    That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…"" ""

  17. I want to thank you for this post, I really, really do. I've been stressing about "what to get" people for Christmas and such...and while I know, I *know* it's not what it about, I want to give gifts because I care about people.

    Your personal experiences inspired me to be a bit more (lots more!) proud of the home-made gifts I am giving this year.

    Thank you so much!

  18. You've touched my heart this morning. What a wonderful first thing to read. Thank you Enola, for what you do.

  19. I recently purchased your book, "The Prepared Family Guide to Uncommon Diseases", and found it invaluable! And I have dedicated my blog post today to the book, and I hope you will check it out: www.salvationandsurvival.com. Thank you for your unique perspective and uplifting messages. They make my day!

  20. Bad times often make good stories later on. Right after my Dad died(I was 14),some relatives who weren't left anything in his will got ticked and sicced Social Services on my Mom. When the lady showed up, it couldn't have been at a worse time. I was there by myself, changing over a propane tank(this was in a trailer at the very end of the road..),a riding mower tipped up on its side,held up with a log,and a homemade electric hotdog cooker on the porch(the kind that uses the hotdog itself as the heating element)-she was polite,but asked a lot of questions.This,and a couple other events, led to a major rift with that side of the family, one that hasn't been closed as of yet(this was 1976).
    Now, it's a funny story, but not then..

  21. Beautiful story. Xa Lynn - good luck on your endeavor to change the exchange. We did that back in '03 when my BIL, hubby and I were all out of work, and never looked back. So much less stress and happiness.

    This year MIL and my sister are getting home canned jam. Sister in law is getting some earrings my daughter made. My niece is getting a pearl necklace I stung for her (I saved up and was able to buy a beautiful pink strand) and nephew is getting a home sewn blanket with his favorite super hero on it.

  22. Greetings Enola,
    Your post was quite timely.

    We have the funds to celebrate Christmas just like everyone else, however we "choose" to remember it as the Savior's birthday, and not a celebration for ourselves.

    I feel so warm and blessed when I read or hear about other people doing the same. Yes, family is more important than any gift you could ever give or receive.

    Blessings to you and yours.

  23. You have no idea how much I needed to read this, Enola. Right now we are in the toughest financial situation we've ever been. We lost our business and we had put every penny of our savings toward it. We have nothing. Nothing. Only what we need to survive. We're happy, anyway. But my concern was about the gifts, just like you. There are so many kids in our family and we have nothing to give them. But you're right, it's my pride talking. It's commercialism and consumerism in my head. How easy it is to forget the true meaning of Christmas. I am shameful about it, because Jesus Christ is my Savior and he is the One we're celebrating for.

  24. I just followed a link to your blog, and I'm so glad I did. Thank you for this wonderfully humble post... God bless you!

  25. One of the best presents that my son has received was a large bundle of socks. It was appreciated because he really needed them at that time. The best present that he ever gave us was a Aracuana chicken. I had no idea that a chicken could be so pretty.

  26. What a lovely, heartfelt story. Stories of personal experience are always good teachers.

  27. You've touched my heart this morning. What a wonderful first thing to read. Thank you Enola, for what you do.