Christmas of 1987 had all the markings of the saddest I would ever experience. My wife, son and daughter were in Virginia, the rest of my family in Michigan, and I was in Korea.
I was a trumpet player and Operations Sergeant in the Second Infantry Division Band. In the month prior to Christmas I had sent four piece ensembles to every corner of the DMZ. The holiday music was well appreciated as we did our part to instill joy and happiness into our fellow soldiers.
Christmas lights, trees, and wreaths were displayed throughout the Division along with the ever present hint of snow in the evening air. The last thing I looked at before falling asleep Christmas Eve was the stack of wrapped presents setting under my foot tall Christmas tree and the cards sent to me by family and friends. I don’t believe I have ever felt so alone.
On Christmas morning I and the four other musicians calling ourselves the Velvet Brass played for the church service at the Stone Chapel, then headed to the mess hall. The mess sergeant had pulled out all the stops. The hall was beautifully decorated and the staff had spent all night preparing a feast fit for the occasion, but there was still something missing. As I looked around the mess hall I felt and witnessed the most sadness I had ever seen in my life. We had everything the army could provide us…we had little or nothing of what we really needed.
As we walked back to our barracks our conversation turned to home, loneliness, and family. Without one dissenting vote the Velvet Brass members grabbed our instruments and headed back to the mess hall to give something back to the staff. To say they appreciated our special thank you is an understatement. One thing led to another. Other soldiers from the band decided to join us and before we put our horns to bed that night we had played in five mess halls, two chapels and Division Headquarters.
When I returned to the barracks well after dark I finally got a chance to unwrap my Christmas gifts reveling in the love and thoughtfulness that went into each special package. This sixteen hour day, on the other side of the Earth from my family, elbow to elbow with others in the same circumstance, turned out to be the most meaningful Christmas I have ever had.
When the day had dawned I felt hollow. The more I allowed Jesus to fill me that day the more of His joy, love, and peace I was able to share. What I learned that Christmas is that it is not just about the gifts others give us. It is not just about the gifts we give others. It is about experiencing and sharing the gifts we receive from God.
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