by Bill McCarthy 

When the Christmas season arrives each year, we are bombarded by media messages about “that perfect gift,” and retail stores vie for customers with promises of great deals on the newest trends in toys for children, items at the top of Christmas lists that will, supposedly, bring happiness. Many of us also remember the anticipation, images, sights and smells of the Christmases of our childhood, and we try to create the same magic for our children, nieces, nephews and grandchildren. It is a season of anticipation.

Of course, what we learn as we get older is that we are not anticipating the arrival of Santa Claus, of special toys or even of a Christmas Eve snowfall. We are anticipating the celebration of the miracle of Christ’s birth and the arrival of Christ in our world and in our individual lives. We are anticipating an incredible act of love by our God, who sent His son to save us. This event, the birth of our Savior in a manger and into very humble circumstances, brings hope to all of us and especially to those who live on the margins of our society. The true meaning of Christmas is its message of love and hope to all people and especially to those who are most vulnerable.

The best gifts I receive are the letters from clients whose lives you have changed through your loving service. Perhaps my best Christmas present this year is the letter Amy*, a 16-year old girl who lives at Sarah’s House with her mother and her 11-year old sister Lisa*, wrote to the caseworkers who have worked with her family:

I’m not sure who I should reference this to, but here is what I have to say and my big thank you. My mother doesn’t know I’m writing this and she hasn’t read it yet. Please read this out loud. Lisa and I have never had a stable home and a clean parent. Before my mom came here everything was horrible.

When our dad was alive, my parents would use drugs, and my dad would beat my mother and me daily. (I never let him hit Lisa). It was not a small slap to my mother or me; he would really beat us. My dad’s death was a surprise. We had no idea. Sadly, I always thought my mom would die before my dad. Yes, they were both messed up, but they are amazing parents.

After my father died, we moved around a lot – to Crownsville, then to Lanham. And my mom struggled with working at 7-11, facing a drug abuse problem, plus two kids who liked to ditch school. And she had horrible depression.

My mom lost us on November 29, 2012. Lisa and I were separated. Mrs. S’s (the foster mom’s) home was nice, but she and her sister frequently drank. I had to take care of her 81-year old sister. Lisa got abused at my grandparents’ house by my grandma. We never had a home.

My mom fell into a coma, and I thought I was going to lose her. I thought I was going to lose two parents in the matter of 8 months. God had different plans. Again, I have NEVER seen my mother off drugs until December 2012 when the coma happened. My mom came to Sarah’s House, thank God, because I thought she would be on the streets.

I found Mrs. S dead in February of 2013. I didn’t think I would have a place to go but, by God’s will, Social Services let me back with my mother.

Now, I can tell you this after my mom’s being at Sarah’s House. I have seen her grow SO much. She is no longer drug-dependent. She is God-dependent! She hasn’t laid hands on me or Lisa. I don’t have to raise Lisa like I have for the past 11 years or worry about my mother. This is my home!

Thank you so much for bringing my mom back to me. I would die inside if my mom was on drugs again or if she was homeless or, worse, dead. This is the only family I have left.

You guys and God saved me and Lisa from another funeral and losing another parent. Thank you.

If the true meaning of Christmas is its message of love and hope, it is clear to me that you bring this message to people throughout the year. From the bottom of my heart, thank you – for making Christ’s Christmas message real for Amy and Lisa – and for countless others this year.