michele bowman photography » windsor ontario wedding photographer~ michele bowman

reflections on a Christmas past

Christmas is almost upon us.

a few years ago (ummmmm… about 16 years i think), Darryl and i were living a life that is quite different from the one that we love today.
it was a life with a toddler and a baby.
my Josh had just turned 3 and Emilie was almost 2. 
i was a stay at home mom, and Darryl was a full-time student, studying Theology and Pastoral studies at a school that was located 2 hours from where we lived.
we didn’t move when Darryl started his program the previous year, because at the time we lived in a co-op and qualified for subsidized housing, due to the fact that we didn’t have an income.
yep, you read that correctly.
no income.
of course, i considered getting a job, but at 25, with 2 babies and no formal training or post-secondary education, i didn’t really qualify for a job that paid anything more than minimum wage. putting 2 kids in daycare was too expensive.
Darryl had to live part-time at the school where he studied, because it was easier than commuting everyday. 
i lived alone with 2 kids and no car, no income and no job.
it was tough.
i should have been heavily medicated.
every Christmas i reflect on that time, because even though it was very tough and trying, it was a time when we had to truly trust in our faith in God for everything we had, and we didn’t have the burden of getting sucked into the commercialism of the season.
we couldn’t get sucked into it.
we lived on about $500 a month from Darryl’s student loans.
yep, you read that correctly, $500 a month.
our rent and hydro totaled about $110 ($32 for rent, and $80 for hydro) , and the rest of the money went towards gas, car expenses and food.
we didn’t have much money for food and ate lots of pasta.
that Christmas was kind of stressful, because as good parents we wanted to be able to give our kids at least a gift or two under the tree.
we didn’t do the Santa thing, so we weren’t worried about Josh thinking that Santa had bailed on him or anything, but we still wanted to spoil our beautiful children.
nope, we didn’t have enough money for anything. 
we were just getting by (well, barely) and some months we didn’t even know where our next week’s groceries were coming from.
we never received social assistance, and never used food banks, but this Christmas was different. it was tough. i had heard of a project on the radio, and decided that we might have to swallow our pride and ask for help. you see, the Salvation Army ran an event every year, that was for low income families.
it was the Christmas Hamper program.
i couldn’t believe that we might have to ask for help. i had always vowed i would never be one of ‘those’ people. i quickly found out that ‘those’ people were us. we were trying our best, trying to get by, working hard to make a great life for our children.
it was hard to face.
i’m thankful that our kids were babies, because i don’t know how i would have handled it all if my kids were older and were faced with the pressures of friends and society. i can’t imagine how hard that would have been. my kids were blissfully ignorant, happy for stories and hugs, and didn’t know how much we struggled everyday, just to make ends meet. 
when i had an extra dollar or two, i would spoil my kids with a Hot Wheels car and that rocked their world. if we ever had more than a dollar or two to spare, we would head to McDonald’s for a 99cent burger and fries. one order for each child, usually none for us.
that December was quite an adventure indeed.
one fateful day, we bundled up the kiddies and headed over to the Western Fairgrounds (where the hamper program was taking place) and swallowed our pride.
it was tough to swallow.
as we approached the desk where the volunteers worked, i was so thankful that i was given a big smile and not a scowling glance.  i thought i was going to be judged for being poor, and judged for being a bad parent (commercials make you feel like you’re a terrible parent when you don’t buy that $300 gaming system or those furry friends of the year).
i was asked how old my kids were, and i told them.
the volunteer brought over a HUGE, brand new Tonka dump truck for Josh. it was yellow and it was huge. i knew Josh would love it.
for Emilie, they brought over a Barbie and a stuffed Barney toy.
they put the gifts into a garbage bag. 
i glanced over at the heap of toys that they were giving out to needy families that year, and it was a MOUNTAIN of TOYS!!! seriously!
i was so thankful that i was getting loved on, and so many other families would be too.
after the toys were handed to us, were were also presented with a gift card for a turkey and some groceries. 
OMG!!! was someone actually offering me free groceries?
this was overwhelming stuff for 25 year olds.
too much life for a couple of young parents.
it was a month of blessings indeed.
not only did we get a free turkey from the Salvation Army, but our co-op surprised us with a grocery store gift-card as well, and then the Women’s Auxiliary from Darryl’s college sent home a HUGE hamper of food as well!! everything that we would need to make a beautiful Christmas dinner.
i think we had more food that month than we’d had the entire year, and it was such a treat to have a couple of turkeys to cook!
Christmas morning came and went, and my kids loved their gifts.
the Tonka truck was a huge hit, and Emilie was thrilled with her first Barbie doll.
am i thankful for this type of trial in my life?
maybe just a little bit.
you see, Christmas wasn’t all about the shopping and the gifts back then.
we couldn’t afford to shop or buy gifts.
it was about the real reason for Christmas.
it was about spending time with family and friends.
it was a time for faith.
another Christmas is upon me.
i can now buy gifts if i want to, and i can afford groceries too.
but…..
because of the many years of struggles that we had when the kids were younger, i’m so very thankful for everything i have today.
i am thankful that my children learned the true meaning of Christmas from early on, and to this day aren’t focused on getting all sorts of gifts. 
i can’t wait until December 20th. the day when Josh comes home from university.
we can gather together as a family once again, laughing, watching stupid movies (my kids can’t stand Christmas Vacation, but we make them watch it anyways) and i can fill my hug quota.
for some reason, i’m feeling the need to go out and buy someone a turkey right now.
if you know of someone that could use some help this month, let me know and i’d love to buy them a Christmas dinner.

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Anonymous - I’m crying right! What a way to bring us “down to earth” and realize what is going on around us….Your photos are always an inspiration to me but your words are just as great. I vow to bless someone this christmas because my parents too suffered through those times and my brothers and i were oblivious to it. I want to help someone this christmas and pay it forward. Because today I Can and I Will and as God’s children we are not only obligated but shoudl be willing to help those in need around us. Thank You Lord Everything for Every Good Blessing comes from You.

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