Some remember it as the Blizzard of ‘82, but I’ll never forget the Christmas Eve I slept on a couch in the women’s restroom of a church…and experienced the heart of the Christmas season in a very special way.
Over the River and Through the Wood
I was eleven and my family of five was traveling from our home in the foothills of Colorado to my grandparents’ house along the New Mexico border. Of course, as mountain dwellers, we weren’t going to let a little snow in the forecast stop us. Except the storm kept on dumping heavy snow. Halfway to Grandma’s house, the authorities closed the highway and waved us off the road. Rumors of a reopening kept us near the on-ramp for hours. But as the sun began to set, my parents started looking for a place to spend the night.
No Room at the Inn
One not-so-small problem. Any available hotel rooms had been snatched up hours earlier leaving no room in any inn. However, instead of being pointed to a stable for the night or making plans to spend the night snuggled together in the back seat of our station wagon, Dad was given directions to a church in town being used as a shelter for stranded travelers.
When we arrived, we were directed to a fellowship hall where local women prepared a meal of soup and sandwiches donated by the grocery store. After eating, those families with small children like ours were divided between the assorted nurseries while other travelers claimed scattered spots around the larger room. I couldn’t imagine spending Christmas Eve with strangers and sleeping on a floor.
It Happened on Christmas Eve
In the process of assigning rooms, the pastor also invited everyone to attend their Christmas Eve service since the townspeople would be unlikely to venture out into the storm. Dad quickly volunteered our help and we moved to the sanctuary. Mom filled in for the pianist and my younger brothers and I were given the honor of lighting the Advent candles, a tradition I discovered for the first time.
The festive decorations and polished woodwork contrasted with the flannel, denim, and snow-boot-clad attendees, but as we began to worship together, the trappings of the season faded away in the simple beauty of the Christmas story.
The Wonder of Worship
No longer consumed with thoughts of presents and Christmas lights and other family traditions, it wasn’t hard to imagine myself alone in a strange city without a comfortable place to sleep. To wonder if God was in the middle of the situation and yet see His hand at work as unlikely people came together to see a baby in the manger.
That night I experienced the beauty in the unexpected as God came near to humanity.
With the strains of “Silent Night” echoing in our ears, we drifted off to our sleeping spots. I then saw God’s hand in the discovery of a comfortable couch in the corner of a women’s restroom near the nurseries and enjoyed a good night’s sleep.
His hand again showed up in the form of a bountiful breakfast and even toy-filled stockings for the younger children. And more blessings as we piled into our car to continue our trip on freshly-plowed roads to the welcoming arms of family.
It was a Christmas I’ll never forget…and a Christmas I try to remember.
Share Your Stories With Me
What about you? Is there a Christmas that you remember more than the others? Why? What traditions do you continue in order to capture the heart of Christmas?