Some called it the Blizzard of ’82 but I remember it as the year the Christmas story completely captured my heart.
Our family’s annual trek from our home in the foothills west of Denver to my grandparents’ house in New Mexico usually took about four hours. And four hours being sandwiched between my squabbling younger brothers was about three and a half hours too many.
The Christmas Eve I was eleven (yes, I’m now 44), snow started falling in the middle of the night. By the time my parents rolled us out of warm beds into our packed station wagon at O-dark-thirty, over six inches of the white stuff already blanketed our dirt road. Thanks to four-wheel drive, we eventually reached plowed roads and slowly made our way down the canyon to Denver where we joined a long line of other holiday travelers creeping along the Interstate behind a plow that could not keep up with the accumulating snow.
South of Denver, progress slowed and then stalled as State Troopers motioned all vehicles off the now-closed highway. After more hours waiting for un-fulfilled rumors of a re-opening, my dad eventually made the decision to find a place to stay for the night.
Except there were no rooms to be had at any inn.
Instead of staying the night in our car, we were instead directed to a local church being opened as a shelter. Upon arrival, our family was assigned half of a nursery for the night while single travelers and those with pets were camping out in the fellowship hall. We thankfully ate soup and sandwiches provided by the local women with help from grocery store donations and then listened as the pastor invited all of the stranded travelers to attend the evening’s Christmas Eve service most of the local congregation would miss due to the blizzard conditions outside.
Partly because we had nothing else to do but mostly because my dad had previously been a pastor, our family drifted toward the sanctuary. Soon my mom thumbed through hymnals and practiced on the piano while my brothers and I received our instructions to light the Advent candles on the wreath Dad would lower using a pulley system.
Within an hour, the polished pews filled with weary travelers in sweaters, jeans, and snow boots rather than Christmas finery. Maybe it was the unfamiliar yet poignant liturgy of this denomination. Perhaps it was the eerie similarity to needing a place to stay when the hotels were full. But despite multiple Christmas services and bed-sheet-draped nativity reenactments to my credit, the simple truth of the story hit home.
We were lost and out in the cold due to our sin. God loved us so much He sent His Son to bring us in out of the storm and into His family.
Cold versus warmth. Hunger versus fed. Fear versus safety. All because of Emmanuel, God with us.
Forget about brightly-wrapped presents beneath a decorated tree and materialistic hopes for my wish-list favorites. Even leave behind the traditions of family gathered around a table loaded with good food. At the core of it all, only Jesus mattered.
The service ended with a candle-lit hymn and the band of newly-bonded travelers drifted out to our various corners of the building to sleep. Yet, my newfound understanding of the gospel lingered as my mom and I opted to spend the night on a couch in the women's restroom instead of on the nursery floor. It colored Christmas morning with joy for others when a heavy-set traveler with a full white beard and red long-sleeved shirt pretended he was Santa's brother and handed out filled stockings to the younger children. It grew when we said goodbye to our church hosts and piled into our car to take our place in the line waiting for the highway to re-open. And it solidified into a deeper faith by the time we finally reached our destination.
I don't remember what presents I opened later that Christmas afternoon. I only remember—and still have—the clothes-pin doll a financially-poor neighbor had given my grandmother to pass on to me. That simple gift from the heart became a symbol of the intangible value of faith I discovered while stranded in a storm with no room at the inn.
Candee Fick is the wife of a high school football coach and the mother of three children, including a daughter with a rare genetic syndrome. When not busy with her day job or writing, she can be found cheering on the home team, exploring the great Colorado outdoors, indulging in dark chocolate, and savoring happily-ever-after endings through a good book. Connect with her at www.CandeeFick.com.
Catch of a Lifetime
He breathes football. She shudders at the very mention of the sport. After a tragedy involving a football player destroyed her family, athletic trainer and graduate student Cassie moves across the country looking for a fresh start, but a change in financial aid lands her in the middle of her worst nightmare. Meanwhile, rookie coach Reed worries his dream career will slip away as injuries plague his players and his star receiver teeters on the brink of ineligibility. As the two work together to salvage the season, sparks fly, and Reed must eventually choose between the game he cherishes and the woman he loves.