By Leo Kelley

I was 10 years old, it was Christmas Eve and I didn’t understand.

My mom had taken me along on a visit to an elderly friend’s home. As I was reading the latest issue of Sports Illustrated I had brought along, the woman began to weep. My mom put her arms around her distressed friend, whispering words of comfort. And it seemed to work because a while later my mom’s friend was composed and even smiled as she hugged us both as we were leaving. I remember she smelled like Juicy Fruit gum. I liked Juicy Fruit gum.

Did I mention it was Christmas Eve?

“How could anyone be sad at Christmas?” I asked my mom.

“You’re too young to understand,” my kind, beautiful and wise mom explained. “You see, her husband of more than 50 years died last month. Even though Christmas is often the happiest time of the year, it can be the saddest time when you’ve lost someone you love. The first Christmas after their loved one has passed is often the most painful.”

How did my mom get so smart? I didn’t fully understand then, but several decades later I understand only too well what the elderly lady was going through.

Tuesday — for believers — is a celebration of the second-most important event in human history, the birth of Jesus Christ. That blessed event, in my way of reasoning, trails only our Savior’s death — the sacrifice that gives each of us an opportunity for eternal life.

Merry Christmas to all you believers. And to those who don’t — for one reason or another — celebrate Christmas, I hope you have a great day, too.

The custom of wishing others a “merry” Christmas is a time-honored, cherished tradition. Certainly, the greeting isn’t intended to offend those who hold alternative religious beliefs.

The simple word “merry,” according to Webster’s New World College Dictionary, is defined as “full of fun and laughter; lively, cheerful and festive.”

For most, it’s easy to be “merry” this time of year. As we gaze into our rear-view mirror, we are reminded of homestyle feasts, gift exchanges and treasured hours of fellowship with family and friends at past gatherings, heightening our anticipation for the next one.

Unfortunately, some — both believers and unbelievers — are struggling as Christmas nears. For them — like the woman my mother comforted all those years ago — the day that had always been the best of times has suddenly evolved into the worst of times.

Maybe you have a friend or relative who is going through turmoil. Maybe a short visit will make all the difference in the world. Like the lonely woman in my youth, we sometimes just need to know that someone else is sharing in our loss, someone else understands why we’re not “merry” like before.

While we’re looking forward to the best Christmas ever, I hope we can remember those who are struggling to overcome pain and sadness.

While we’re at it, why don’t we remember our troops in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world? Let’s especially remember the relatives of those soldiers who have been killed or wounded in our war on terrorism.

How about giving up an hour of our time to visit those in nursing homes and hospitals? What about those who are struggling to put food on their table? Why don’t we make a special effort to let them know that we care?

For most, Christmas is our favorite time of the year. But for others, it’s a difficult step as we try to cope with various stages of grief.

Back when I was a kid, my mom took the time to show a friend that she understood — at least she tried — the distress she was feeling. That simple gesture was a blessing for a woman who had lost her partner in life.

Christmas — to believers — is a celebration of the birth of our Savior. It is a special time for family and friends to gather, to strengthen those ties that bind. However, it’s also a very difficult time for those in pain — both physical and mental.

Perhaps you have a friend who is battling drug dependence or one has a childbehind bars. Let them know that you care. Let them know that they have a friend. That will mean more than any present you could give them.

Back in my youth, I couldn’t understand how anyone could be unhappy at Christmas. Today, I realize that life can be, at times very challenging.

In retrospect, we can survive adversity, thanks to the birth and death of Jesus Christ. And we can help others by following His example.

My mom proved that to me a long time ago, showing me that comforting a friend in pain is what Christmas — and Jesus Christ — is all about.

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