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Beth Alston: True love light never fades away

It’s that time again for us to celebrate the beautiful child who was born more than 2,000 years ago in a faraway land. The markers are still there. The same stars shine in the cold winter sky. The sound of a cow lowing still reminds us that God created all — the higher and the lower animals, and all between. While frankincense and myrrh are not seen often, gift-giving is still a tradition in our culture.
It’s so easy to become consumed by consumption, to become so entangled in details such as shopping, cooking, decorating and entertaining, that we lose sight of why we mark the occasion in the first place. We know it’s not about the man in the red suit or the multitude of gaily wrapped packages under the exquisitely and ornately bedecked Christmas trees.
It’s not so we can get all dressed up and go to parties and sip champagne and nibble goodies and “catch up.” It’s not a reason to try to out-do our neighbors in the home decorating game. And while all of these trappings seem to come with the season, the real message behind Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. This child would grow into the man who walked among us, taught us the way to His Father, and died on the cross so we might be forgiven for our sins and have everlasting life.
My wish is that all of us truly embrace His message of peace and love, now and always. Let us remember that it is truly better to give than to receive, and that there are many people right here in our community to whom Christmas has little or no meaning other than just another day of winter. There are children among us who will awaken on Christmas morning in a cold house with no hope for breakfast, much less “play-pretties” under a tree. These people are among us all year long. Don’t lose sight of that.
There are also many in our community who have no family at all. Some of the more fortunate of these may be residents of nursing care facilities or group homes, while the rest are still at home, struggling along, many merely existing on loneliness. Don’t forget them either.
Let us remember our troops overseas and those who are awaiting deployment. No matter what your political leanings, they are there for us. Pray for them and their families.
While material things are nice to have, there is no other gift more precious than love. During this holiday season, many of us will be with loved ones we see infrequently. It is a joyous time of reunion for families and friends separated by time and distance.
There have been many Christmas miracles in my lifetime, all the way from my earliest memory to the present. When I was about four, I recall Santa bringing me the doll of my dreams, a dark-haired bridal doll with little dangly pearl earrings. She was so beautiful I could hardly breathe. I named her Merle, after my dark-haired Aunt Merle. I knew then that dreams do come true if you wish hard enough.
During the years since childhood, I’ve also learned dreams don’t always become reality and can be shattered inexplicably, but such is life.
There is one Christmas gift I will never forget. It was given to me in a cave in December 1989. My caving partner and I were deep underground and I was pretty grouchy that day. My feet hurt, my knees hurt. I was cranky. I really didn’t want to be there and didn’t care if he knew it.
As I continued through the passage, he caught up with me and as I looked back at him, I saw what he had done. He had placed two small candles high in a little alcove. Their light was framed by the natural contours of the earth, and the sight was simply breath-taking. The two tiny orbs twinkled in the steamy atmosphere of heat evaporating off the two of us. It was surreal and enchanting.
I wanted to weep with joy, but I hugged him and thanked him and just stood in awe for awhile. As we continued on our way, I would glance back from time to time, but the light was gone after a few twists and turns in the passage. But the feeling stayed with me; it’s still with me today.
That small, sweet, touching gesture was the greatest gift I received at Christmas that year, and it is one of the most treasured gifts I have ever received. Why? Because the gift was from his heart, and it went straight to mine. It was perfect in that it was unexpected, greatly needed, indestructible, and will never fade away in my memory.
That’s why the gift of love is so important. Show someone you love them. It doesn’t cost a thing and it will reward you a thousandfold. Go ahead; it’s Christmas.

This column was first published in December 1990. It is now  dedicated to the memory of Mark D. Jancin, who shared the little lights with me so long ago, and to the memory of Mary Sue Fletcher Alston, who always made life fun. Their lights shine on in the hearts of those whom they loved and those who love them still.

Alston, an award-winning journalist, is executive editor of the Americus Times-Recorder. You can reach her at 229-924-2751, ext. 1004, or beth.alston@americustimes.com