The year after my Dad left we had a typical Western New York winter. Living in the suburbs outside of Buffalo, I grew up knowing what bad weather was all about and had experienced first hand the results of “lake effect snow.” This particular year had been a real hard time of survival for our family. The school cafeteria didn’t pay my Mom much, and the welfare checks never seemed to go far enough and Dad’s child support was non-existent. So when Christmas came around my sister and I didn’t expect much and Mom had prepared us for the worst. Our caseworker had made arrangements to get us a free Christmas tree, Mom had made some homemade Christmas Cookies and someone had given my sister and me a used aquarium and a few tropical fish. That was pretty much it. But my Dad had promised my Mom that he would bring us gifts for Christmas. When she shared this with us we became euphoric. We would have a real Christmas after all. Throughout the day on Christmas Eve, we went to the front windows a thousand times looking for his car. A thousand times we heard cars passing by, and it wasn’t Dad. Yet we held onto hope.
Late in the afternoon, it began to snow. Within an hour I went out to help the kid who lived downstairs shovel our driveway. By the time we were done, there were four inches piled up where we had already shoveled. So we started over. And it continued to snow. We were getting about 2-3 inches an hour and it did not stop snowing for hours. In frustration, we quit shoveling around 7:00. The snowplows were running constantly, (a necessity around Buffalo during a blizzard), and yet there was deeper and deeper accumulation in the street in front of our house. We kept looking for Dad as the hours passed. Mom tried to explain that the roads between where we lived and where Dad lived were right through the Snow Belt and that he might not be able to make it through. But I refused to accept that.
We watched Bing Crosby sing us through “Holiday Inn” on our small black and white TV and at every sound on the street ran to the window to see if it was Dad. By 11:00 I was convinced that he wasn’t coming. I went and got on my gloves and outdoor coat and told my Mom I was going to shovel the end of the driveway out, “Just in case.” I felt so defeated and so let down. I was glad for the darkness and the privacy so no one could see me crying as I lifted the wet compacted snow out of the way. Around midnight I was just finishing. There were no more tears running down my frozen cheeks only a broken heart and a feeling of abandonment that overwhelmed me. I wasn’t checking cars anymore. I knew Dad wouldn’t be coming. In our street, the snow was a foot deep and I imagined that it was worse in the snow belts. The plow drivers had gone home to spend the night with their families.
A lone car appeared out of the snow squall. The blinker was on and the driver gunned the engine and pulled the car past me into the snow-choked driveway. Because of the falling snow and the glare of the headlights I didn’t see who it was at first. The car slid to a stop. The door opened. It was Dad! I stood and stared. He had made it through! I buried my face in his coat and didn’t want to let go. “Hey, help me with these presents,” he said. When he opened the trunk of that old Chevrolet, it was filled with gifts. It was literally stuffed with boxes and boxes of wrapped presents. I ran upstairs with the first load screaming; “He’s here. Dad’s here.” It seemed like I made a hundred trips after more and more gifts. Our living room was filled with boxes. It was decided that, since it was already Christmas day, we would open our gifts before bed. I can’t remember ever opening so many packages. Ripping off the festive paper and throwing away the ribbons was fun in itself, but the incredible joy of our newly discovered bounty was even more exciting.
Today I don’t remember the gifts that we got. But every time I tell this story I break down. I cry, not because of the number of gifts we received, but because Dad came through a blizzard to make my Christmas special. It was one of the few times I felt like he cared about me. One of the few times he didn’t let me down.
That year, Christmas took on a whole new meaning for me. A meaning that continues today. I learned a great lesson about my Heavenly Father and His great gift to us. I found out that gifts are never the important thing. God’s presence with me is always more significant than presents. I have learned that God loves me and is willing to bless me with practical and needed provisions. But it is his incarnation that I crave the most. It is relationship with Him that I long for. God has driven through a thousand snowstorms to prove that He loves me, but it is not what he has packed in His trunk that means anything, it is the fact that He comes to embrace me and acknowledge me as His son that makes all the difference.