It was Christmas season, 1999. In March we had lost our son and my wife and I had little enthusiasm for celebrating the season. With Christmas less than two weeks away we hadn't bothered to put up a tree or decorate the house, as is our tradition. Then we read in the paper that a local church would be conducting a special non-denominational prayer gathering for people who had lost a loved one during the year. We decided to go. for our hearts were still aching so dearly for our loss.
The parking lot of the church was nearly full as we arrived at the church. I was surprised...have so many people lost a loved one?, I asked myself. As we entered and took a seat I noticed that the church was lovingly adorned for the Christmas season. I imagined holiday church goers must have found real pleasure with the field of angels that were arrayed from the ceiling to the right of the pulpit. To the left, a beautiful nativity scene stood, alight with candles. However, all I could see on this night was a sea of faces drawn in sorrow as they prepared to face Christmas with a loved one missing this year.
The choir then stood and led us in a rendition of "Joy To The World", seemingly an affront to those here who would know no joy this Christmas. The minister then stood and walked to the pulpit. Upon looking back on his address I have to believe he was divinely inspired that night; intent on easing the pain on a couple of hundred faces in that church. He did not speak about the birth of Christ, nor the star in the east and the wise men. Nor did he threaten the outcome of our souls should we turn away from Christ.
Instead, he chose the beautifully poetic verses in the Bible, the ones which promised hope and healing and comfort. He spoke of the indomitable life of the spirit of both the living and those who have passed.
And then he led us to the summoning of our memories of the one we have lost. He asked us to remember and to take what joy we can from what our loved one gave us while in life. He asked us to face our pain so that we might remember a gentle touch, an extending of kindness, the satisfaction of a pleasantly shared meal, a vacation that once brought smiles and laughter.
As we listened to that minister speak a thousand images of our son passed through our minds, many that lightened the heart. As I looked around the church I could see the lines of worry and pain began to dissipate on those many faces as love remembered triumphed over loss.
It was as if that minister, with a sweep of his hands, had called forth two hundred or so loved ones who had passed, and ushered them in from the church wings, presented in all their glory, a touch of heaven now shining on their faces.
When the minister finished talking the choir again stood and led us in song..."Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me"...and indeed we did feel peace, a peace we had not felt since the death of our son.
As we began to rise and file out the door the minister stood and shook our hands and extended a small gift box to each of us. When we got home and opened the box it contained a gold angel, a Christmas ornament to hang on the tree.....a reminder that our loved ones will always be with us as long as we have memories of them.
And we did decorate our home for Christmas that year....and we did put up a Christmas tree. And on that tree, and every year since, the tree is adorned with a little gold angel to remind us that there are angels among us.