We approach Christmas this year in a different frame of mind, at least in Southwest Georgia and the Florida Panhandle. The world that we know has been turned upside down. Ten weeks after the most devastating storm in this area’s history we still struggle to find a new normal, a peace, a feeling that the corner has turned.
In my own house, the many Christmas trees that decorated our lawn in the past remain dark this year. There is nowhere to place them. There is no electricity to power the lights. The weekly heavy rains have complicated our recovery efforts and have led to floods in neighborhoods that still don’t have roofs.
The solitary decorated tree in our den stands as a testament to our continued celebration of Christmas. It contains thousands of lights, ornaments from our travels over the years, and things that our family has collected during our 40 years of marriage. After losing 40 trees during the storm, this year’s Christmas tree is the most special tree we own. Upon reflection, it probably was even before the hurricane.
In some ways the view from our house is worse than ever. The removal of trees, followed by some 15 inches of rain since Hurricane Michael has led to a virtual swamp in what was once a garden. Equipment bogs down in our efforts to repair the damage. Patience is a virtue that we never appreciated until now.
Yet, we are still mindful of the journey made by Mary and Joseph on the eve of Jesus’ birth. How much worse they must have had it some 2,000 years ago. I struggled to live without air conditioning for eight days. Mary rode a donkey for longer than that while nine months pregnant.
I slept in my own bed, although without power, air-conditioning, or hot water. Mary, about to give birth, had no idea what any of those things were and found herself in a stable because there was no place for them to stay. We have that situation here in our community today with people whose homes have been destroyed who have nowhere to go.
Our Christmas story of the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem has been romanticized over the years through story and song. In reality, it was a rough and difficult journey, likely with difficult weather, limited food and water, and aggravated by the presence of thieves looking to prey on the weakest amongst them. Sound familiar?
I must admit that my reflections of this particular Christmas season are not just touched by the challenges we have faced during the past couple of months. I, too, await the birth of a child. His name will be Andrew Ponder Faulk, and he will likely be my last grandchild. He is trying to decide whether to make his appearance on Christmas Day or a few days before or after.
Andrew is a gift from God as well, just as Jesus was. I cannot image how Mary and Joseph must have felt so alone, hungry and in despair. Even in the midst of the worst storm of my lifetime, I am confident that my grandson will have the best doctors, nurses, and care that are available. Mary and Joseph had nothing, but a manger and God’s promises.
Our family will gather in Donalsonville for Christmas as they have for decades. Some 23 will be present for dinner. We will tell stories from the past, but also stories of this challenging and amazing year.
We will not play games in the yard because, well there is not a yard. But we will be together, four generations, and we will celebrate Jesus’s birth, God’s faithfulness in watching over our family during this storm, and the birth of the newest member of our family.
We are grateful for the slow, but steady rebirth of our community and for the growth of our family. In the midst of this challenging time for most of us, I am awed by the extraordinary fact that this may be the best Christmas ever. His promises are timeless, His faithfulness is constant, and He leads us through the most difficult of storms.
God works in mysterious ways. Peace to you during our challenging recovery. And no matter what path we have taken to get here or where that path may lead us in the future, Merry Christmas to all of you.
PS. Less than 15 minutes after finishing this article, my daughter, Elizabeth went into labor. Andrew Ponder Faulk arrived early Tuesday morning. He is a healthy seven pound, three ounce boy who seems to be particularly taken with his grandfather. To God be the Glory. Merry Christmas.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org