Download Audio (12.2MB)
A small, snow-covered tree
When we arrived at the cemetery, we were touched by what we found.
One day, shortly before Christmas, our third child and first son, Bay, was born. As I said good-bye that evening to my exhausted but joyful wife and left the hospital, the warmth and joy that accompanied the birth of my son overwhelmed the cold chill of that clear December night.
The following December we celebrated the first birthday of our dark-eyed, dark-haired son. The day after Christmas, during an evening of games at the home of my in-laws, our revelry was interrupted by an awful shriek from my mother-in-law: “He’s not breathing!” She had gone to check on Bay, who had been sleeping on her bed, and discovered his cold, lifeless body. We immediately rushed our son to the hospital, attempting CPR on the way. We were grief-stricken to learn that nothing could be done to save his life. He had died from sudden infant death syndrome.
Since then, Christmas has been filled with a much deeper meaning for our family. Each year on Christmas Eve when we take down our other children’s stockings to fill them, one solitary stocking is left on the fireplace mantle. Throughout the remainder of the holiday the stocking serves as a reminder of Bay.
Each year, around the time of Bay’s birthday, my wife and I drive to the cemetery where he is buried. At each visit we find that someone else has arrived before us and placed something on our son’s grave: one year it was delicate, small flowers; the next year, a stuffed bear; the next, a little Christmas tree decorated with miniature ornaments. We have no idea who is responsible; the gifts, which touch us deeply, are never accompanied by a note or card.
When I hinted to my mother-in-law that I knew her secret, she denied responsibility. The following year while she and my father-in-law were serving a church mission abroad, we again found that someone had placed a gift on our son’s grave. Even after inquiring with other family members and friends, we were unable to solve the mystery.
Ten years after our son’s death, a series of snowstorms prevented us from traveling short distances. As a result, our annual visit to our son’s grave site was delayed until several days after Christmas. When we finally made it, we saw a small, decorated Christmas tree, mostly buried in the snow, standing bravely at the head of Bay’s small grave. The effort it must have taken for someone to get to the cemetery through the heavy snowfall overwhelmed us. Tears streamed down our faces as we realized that someone still shared our grief and loss.
After that, we were more resolved than ever to discover the identity of our benefactor and thank him or her for showing us such compassion. But as we reflected more, we realized that whoever was doing these acts of kindness did not want to be identified. We decided to allow our friend to remain anonymous. We replaced our need to thank our friend with a desire to simply live better.
It is now harder for us to speak ill of or criticize any of our friends or family members, because any one of them may be our anonymous friend.
Often while doing service, my wife and I pause to examine our hearts: Are we doing good things to be seen by others or for the pure love of Christ and of our fellow men?
For us, charity—humble and never seeking its own—is symbolized by a beautifully decorated Christmas tree, half buried in snow, resting in a quiet cemetery.—Darrell Smart1
My first Christmas in heaven
(This poem was written by a 13-year-old boy who died on December 14, 1997, of a brain tumor that he had battled for four years. He gave this to his mom before he died.)
I see the countless Christmas trees
around the world below
With tiny lights, like Heaven’s stars,
reflecting on the snow.
The sight is so spectacular,
please wipe away the tear
For I am spending Christmas with
Jesus Christ this year.
I hear the many Christmas songs
that people hold so dear
But the sounds of music can’t compare
with the Christmas choir up here.
I have no words to tell you,
the joy their voices bring,
For it is beyond description,
to hear the angels sing.
I know how much you miss me,
I see the pain inside your heart.
But I am not so far away,
We really aren’t apart.
So be happy for me, dear ones,
You know I hold you dear.
And be glad I’m spending Christmas
with Jesus Christ this year.
I sent you each a special gift,
from my heavenly home above.
I sent you each a memory
of my undying love.
After all, love is a gift more precious
than pure gold.
It was always most important
in the stories Jesus told.
Please love and keep each other,
as my Father said to do.
For I can’t count the blessing or love
he has for each of you.
So have a Merry Christmas and
wipe away that tear.
Remember, I am spending Christmas with
Jesus Christ this year.—Ben2
A Christmas rose
I hurried into the local department store to grab some last-minute Christmas gifts. I looked at all the people and grumbled to myself. I would be in here forever and I just had so much to do. Christmas was beginning to become such a drag. I kinda wished that I could just sleep through Christmas. But I hurried the best I could through all the people to the toy department. Once again I kind of mumbled to myself at the prices of all these toys. And wondered if the grandkids would even play with them.
I found myself in the doll aisle. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a little boy about 5 holding a lovely doll. He kept touching her hair and he held her so gently. I could not seem to help myself. I just kept looking over at the little boy and wondered who the doll was for. I watched him turn to a woman and he called his aunt by name and said, “Are you sure I don’t have enough money?” She replied a bit impatiently, “You know that you don’t have enough money for it.” The aunt told the little boy not to go anywhere, that she had to go get some other things and would be back in a few minutes. And then she left the aisle. The boy continued to hold the doll.
After a bit I asked the boy who the doll was for. He said, “It is the doll my sister wanted so badly for Christmas. She just knew that Santa would bring it.” I told him that maybe Santa was going to bring it. He said, “No, Santa can’t go where my sister is... I have to give the doll to my Momma to take to her.” I asked him where his sister was.
He looked at me with the saddest eyes and said, “She has gone to be with Jesus. My Daddy says that Momma is going to have to go be with her.” My heart nearly stopped beating. Then the boy looked at me again and said, “I told my Daddy to tell Momma not to go yet. I told him to tell her to wait till I got back from the store.” Then he asked me if I wanted to see his picture. I told him I would love to. He pulled out some pictures he’d had taken at the front of the store. He said, “I want my Momma to take this with her so she don’t ever forget me. I love my Momma so very much and I wish she did not have to leave me. But Daddy says she will need to be with my sister.”
I saw that the little boy had lowered his head and had grown so very quiet. While he was not looking, I reached into my purse and pulled out a handful of bills. I asked the little boy, “Shall we count that money one more time?” He grew excited and said, “Yes, I just know it has to be enough.” So I slipped my money in with his and we began to count it.
Of course it was plenty for the doll. He softly said, “Thank you Jesus for giving me enough money.” Then the boy said, “I just asked Jesus to give me enough money to buy this doll so Momma can take it with her to give to my sister. And he heard my prayer. I wanted to ask him for enough to buy my Momma a white rose, but I didn’t ask him, but he gave me enough to buy the doll and a rose for my Momma. She loves white roses so very very much.”
In a few minutes the aunt came back and I wheeled my cart away. I could not keep from thinking about the little boy as I finished my shopping in a totally different spirit than when I had started. And I kept remembering a story I had seen in the newspaper several days earlier about a drunk driver hitting a car and killing a little girl, and the mother was in serious condition. The family was deciding on whether to remove the life support. Now surely this little boy did not belong with that story.
Two days later I read in the paper where the family had disconnected the life support and the young woman had died. I could not forget the little boy and just kept wondering if the two were somehow connected. Later that day, I could not help myself and I went out and bought some white roses and took them to the funeral home where the young woman was. And there she was, holding a lovely white rose, the beautiful doll, and the picture of the little boy in the store.
I left there in tears, my life changed forever.—John London3
Published on Anchor December 2017. Read by Gabriel Garcia Valdivieso. Music taken from the Rhythm of Christmas album. Used by permission.