She Came Back Bearing Gifts

She Came Back Bearing Gifts

From Chicken Soup for Every Mom's Soul

She Came Back Bearing Gifts

The time is always ripe to do right.

Martin Luther King Jr.

My daughter, Carey, was never really like other children. She began talking in sentences by the time she was a year old. She was extremely inquisitive and always too mature for her age. She excelled scholastically and showed signs of musical talent at an early age. She was inducted into our state’s program for gifted and talented children and was invited to be a violinist in the local Youth Symphony. Awards for outstanding achievement in academics and music lined the bookcase in her bedroom. Her stepfather and I couldn’t have been more proud.

Then, slowly and dramatically, everything changed. Carey’s appearance changed. She started running around with a new group of “friends.” She dropped out of the symphony and sports. Truancy notices and reports of her absences from school became commonplace. She became sullen, withdrawn, belligerent and, at times, violent. She scoffed at any form of discipline, crept out of the house in the middle of the night, and often stayed out all night. She ran away from home three times. Carey had discovered drugs.

I fretted, worried, and spent many sleepless nights anticipating a call from local police telling me she was in jail or, worse yet, dead. I lamented over the things I must have done wrong in raising this child and wondered what had become of the moral and emotional foundation I thought I had provided her. Little did I know that this was just the beginning of the end of my dream of a “normal” family with a perfect life.

Over the next two years, my primary goal was to “fix” Carey. I asked a police friend to “scare” some sense into her. I arranged a private “tour” for her of the juvenile detention center. I put her into private counseling. Last, but not least, we moved away from the city, away from the bad influences. Carey loves horses, so we bought three, one for each of us, thinking that if we shared her interest as a family her problems would get better. It was a good plan and it did work . . . for a while. Before long, it all started again.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, my husband confessed that he was seeing someone. We separated on Memorial Day weekend. I’m not sure how I made it through the first few months. I was scared and lost. I couldn’t sleep, forgot to eat, worked twelve-hour days between two hours’ driving time, and did my best to keep up with three horses, two dogs, fifteen cats, three acres of yard work and normal household chores. As you might guess, Carey’s contribution was, at best, minimal. I felt hopeless.

Then came Christmas. I had always loved Christmas, a time that would bring back sweet memories of childhood surprises, family truces and special traditions. But this year there was nothing to celebrate, no reason to even drag out the Christmas decorations.

On Christmas Eve, I worked until noon. If I could have, I probably would have worked right through to the new year. The hour drive seemed longer as I imagined my cold, empty house . . . very much like my heart. I pulled into the drive, reluctantly got out of the car, obligingly petted the dogs and grudgingly walked toward the back door. Suddenly a sweet aroma wafted toward me, beckoning me forward. As I opened the door, a potpourri of tantalizing scents enveloped me. I first identified the smell of food . . . not ordinary, quick-fix food, but festive, only-on-holiday food. Then I recognized the sweet smell of scented holiday candles. If my nose was merely delighted, my eyes were in awe! This house I was entering had been transformed from the drafty, colorless old farmhouse I had left behind that morning into a warm and glowing Christmas fantasy, a joy to all my senses! Soft Christmas music playing on the stereo relocated from Carey’s upstairs bedroom gently competed for my attention to the holiday décor as I floated through each neatly groomed room. When I reached the living room, Carey was sitting in her holiday finery, complete with an apron and a childlike smile I remembered from long ago but hadn’t seen in several years. She said, “Sit down and relax. Christmas dinner will be ready soon.”

I’m not sure what I said to her then to let her know how much I appreciated what she had done, but no words could have adequately described the way I felt. I just sat and allowed the sights, sounds and smells to fill my senses . . . and my heart. Over Cornish game hens stuffed with cranberry-orange dressing, homemade sweet potatoes (not from a can), rice pilaf and creamy chocolate pudding, we laughed as we talked of Christmases passed.

Lying in bed that night, I thanked God for giving me my daughter. The daughter whom I thought I had lost had just blessed me with the most wonderful gift I have ever received: a much-needed reminder of the true spirit of Christmas . . . love and hope.

Luann Warner

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