One of my most memorable Christmases was 1998. That year was a particularly tough year for our family and especially for my mother-in-law, Dorothy Younce. We called her “Mama Dot.” In May of 1998, her husband, Gray, died suddenly and unexpectedly. Later that year, Gray’s brother was killed in an automobile accident. It truly was a year of loss and sorrow. Then came Christmas day, a day of joy and celebration, but, thanks to me, things went south in a hurry. We loaded up our Ford Explorer with our family’s Christmas presents to go over to my mom and dad’s house. Every year we gather on Christmas morning for a breakfast of egg and sausage casserole, ham, fruit and coffee cake, then we open presents. We have a tradition where we take turns opening presents; that’s the rule and the ritual. Everyone watches as each gift is opened so that we can see everyone’s reaction. It’s a day of feasting, joy, and celebration. But not in 1998. On the way over to my parent’s place, we stopped to pick up Mama Dot.
There had been an ice storm the previous day and most of the roads were clear of ice, but there was one shady spot on our road that was still icy. I wasn’t going that fast as the speed limit is 25 on that part of the road, but I hit a patch of ice, lost control of the vehicle, and went into the ditch. When the car hit the ditch, it slowly rolled on its side. We ended up with the passenger side of the car facing the sky. When the car rolled, Mama Dot, who wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, flew from one side of the car to the other. We could not get out of the car for several minutes. Finally, someone came and opened the passenger’s side door and pulled Karen out, then pulled me out. We went to the back of the car and opened the rear door and removed Mama Dot and my daughter, Elizabeth, who was still strapped in her car seat. We were all ok, except for Mama Dot. She’d cut her head so badly that Med Flight was called. While we were waiting for Med Flight, one of our neighbors stopped by and took Elizabeth and put her in his car so she could stay warm. Med Flight finally arrived and transported Mama Dot to VCU. I watched as the helicopter flew out of sight and I thought, “What on earth have I done? Why didn’t we stay home? I’ve ruined Christmas for everyone!” The guilt was awful.
We spent the rest of Christmas day in the emergency room and after several days in the hospital Mama Dot was released and, blessedly, she suffered no long-term effects from the accident. That year we ended up celebrating Christmas about a week later. True to tradition, we went around the circle and watched as we opened presents. When it came time for Mama Dot to open a present, I remember being so thankful, so grateful, that she was with us and we could enjoy that Christmas together. That year was so tough, but that Christmas was among the most memorable of my lifetime because of all that happened. The events of 1998 gave me plenty to think about during Christmas. I was reminded, in a very real way, of the preciousness of life and the gift of family.
I was thankful for first responders who helped at the accident scene. I was grateful for the neighbor that helped keep Elizabeth warm. As I reflected on all these things the meaning of Christmas was brought home as it had never been before. When God sent Christ into the world, he sent love into the world and that love binds us, unites us, upholds us, and sustains us. That Christmas I saw love in action from family members, first responders, friends, neighbors, nurses, and doctors. Christ came to fill this world with God’s love. I saw it most clearly in 1998.
I pray we can see it clearly this year. As we journey towards Christmas, I hope we’ll take some time to sit quietly and think about what Christmas means and offer God our most profound thanks for all that He’s done by sending Christ into the world. I encourage us to take a moment and share with a friend or loved one how much they mean to us. Go and bless someone with the gift of Christ’s love. I’d also like to invite you to join us on Christmas Eve at 5:30 in the People of Hope Center as we celebrate the birth of Christ. May you each have a wonderful and very Merry Christmas and a healthy, happy, and hope-filled new year, and may God bless you, and may God bless Bethel Baptist Church.