by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.
Christmas 1968. We were on a westbound journey. I don’t think we knew what or where our final destination was. Or at least I didn’t. I was ten years old. All I knew was we had left Georgia suddenly, late one evening, to escape my dad, who, I felt was rarely happy and was almost always angry about something.
My parents had divorced after 25 years of marriage, and my dad just couldn’t seem to let go of my mom. She was like a possession that he’d had a long time and didn’t want to loose.
Now he’d begun a “cat-and-mouse” chase that lasted several months. We left everything behind us –most of our clothes, my toys, my dog. All I remember taking along were our ice cream freezer, Bible, and a blue and white paperback book a friend had recently given to my mom, Science and Health.
As we passed through Mobile, Alabama, my dad found us, and we were literally in a car chase, with Mom and me driving very fast and making lots of turns to try to shake him off. We did . . . for a while.
That Christmas found us in a mobile home in Beaumont, Texas. We stayed in mobile-home parks instead of hotels as we traveled west, so as to be more elusive as the chase continued.
There was little to no money to be spent on gifts. But my mom and I were safe – and in several ways we were happy.
Christmas in Beaumont had no glitz or glimmer. There was no family gathering, no holiday feast. We got ourselves a tiny Christmas tree. It was so small I suspect it was like the tree in the cartoon classic “A Charlie Brown Christmas” – the tree nobody wanted. We didn’t have any decorations. Not even a tree stand. So, we found a way to hang the tree from the ceiling. I remember thinking how cool that was. We strung popcorn and made paper strings. This too, I remember, was fun.
What is perhaps most remarkable as I look back on it now, is that my memory of that Christmas is not one of fear and uncertainty, but of peace. It’s almost hard for me to understand how, in the midst of such a violent and unstable time in my life, my memories could be so dear, so special. In fact, I’ve often said that was the best Christmas ever. How could that be true?
Since childhood I had been taught that God loved me. That God is good. That God is everywhere. I had learned the Bible stories of Daniel in the lions’ den and of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego being thrown into the fiery furnace. I think I was confident of God’s care, even though my life was apparently in danger and my future most uncertain and at risk.
My Bible study had begun to involve the Science and Health my mom had been given. It never ceased to amaze me by explaining and putting into words what was somehow already written in my heart. It was filled with powerful affirmations of God’s saving power and helpful explanations of the mission of Jesus. The book assured me that all things were possible to God and that I could never be separated from Him.
Certainly, the Bible teaches these things, but my study of Science and Health clarified many Bible passages for me and convinced me that what I was learning in the Bible was true. If I was ever in doubt, this book would defend the Bible’s claim and strengthen my trust.
I was not a member of a Church of Christ, Scientist. In fact, I had recently been baptized in another denomination. But it was very natural to include Science and Health with my Bible study. It provided extra assurance that I, too, could be as safe as those Bible characters.
“Love is much stronger than hate and
can dispel fear, uncertainty, and doubt”
Two years later, I did join a Church of Christ, Scientist, and have been blessed in more ways that I could ever have imagined during my childhood.
We made our way up to Dallas after that Christmas, where my mom found a job. I found myself in a new school making new friends. We established a new home, and my mom married the friend who had given her that paperback Science and Health. I even got my dog back. My grandmother had rescued him and cared for him.
And what happened to my dad? He ended his chase, went back to Georgia, and began a new life of his own. I never had the opportunity to see him again, as he passed on several months later. But I like to think that, before he passed on, he was as happy as we were in our new life.
Now, I try to take a few moments every holiday season to remember the Christmas of 1968. Our modest celebration taught me that peace and hope can be felt in the midst of threats of violence; that joy is not dependent on money and circumstances; that love is much stronger than hate and can dispel fear, uncertainty, and doubt.