My freshman year in high school, my family and I moved to Vancouver, Washington. I was trying to adjust to a new school, and I ached for my friends in Saratoga Springs, New York. I missed the nice big house we’d lived in there and its peaceful country setting. We were now living in a cramped apartment on a noisy street while my parents house-hunted. I wanted so badly to live in a house again. I wanted my own room, not one that I had to share with my little sister. I wanted the feeling of permanence that comes with living in your own house.
Just when Mom and Dad were narrowing down their choices and I was daydreaming about the wallpaper and frilly curtains I’d put in my new room, Dad was laid off. The small company he was working for was not doing well, and Dad was one of several employees to be let go. Buying a house was now out of the question. Finding a job became Dad’s urgent priority.
Christmas was quickly approaching, and I had never felt so depressed. It was at this time that the Young Women in my ward organized a service project. We would visit the battered-women’s shelter for 12 consecutive nights before Christmas.
On the first night, we drove to the shelter with Sister Harris, our Young Women president. I think we were all a little nervous. As the van pulled up in front of the old two-story house in a dilapidated neighborhood, I suddenly felt sorrow that women and children would be forced to flee to such a dismal place.
Once inside the bleak, chilly house, I didn’t feel any better. The faces we saw looked sad and dejected. All except the face of little Aisha. This beautiful baby girl never stopped smiling as she looked at each of us. We took turns cradling her in our arms, and her mother confided that the small scar on Aisha’s face was due to an injury inflicted by her father.
Another woman asked who we were. Sister Harris told her we were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and then bore her testimony of the Lord’s love and concern for each of his children.
We left a Christmas tree and decorations that night and took with us the good feelings that come when we show others we care.
On the nights that followed, we brought gifts donated by members of our ward—baskets with combs and brushes and toiletries for the women, toys and blankets for the children.
The drab living room looked a little less drab each night. We hung homemade stockings on the bare wall above an old television set and taped Christmas cards above the fireplace. The tiny lights on the tree reflected in the silver ornaments. It was actually beginning to look and feel like Christmas in that humble shelter.
On the 12th night we arrived with a turkey dinner and all the trimmings. My heart was touched when a ten-year-old boy cried out, “This is the best Christmas I ever had!”
Something else happened to me during those 12 nights of Christmas. I returned home to our apartment each night feeling so blessed. As I walked into our living room, I saw for the first time how warm and pretty it was. I felt the love that was there and the strong sense of security even during this difficult time. I was grateful that my home was a place of safety and refuge instead of one of violence and fear. I felt a new appreciation for my mom and dad. I no longer resented having to share a room with my little sister.
And I had to agree with the little boy at the shelter—it was the best Christmas I ever had.