On August 11, 2001, our home and business burned. A month later, September 11 attacks changed our world. We returned to our rebuilt home just before Thanksgiving and continued to rebuild our lives that Christmas season.
I wanted somehow to show our kids, ages 5 and 7, that in times of great loss, we celebrate new beginnings and hope for the future – and to inspire and encourage neighbors on our quiet, urban street. Thus began Operation Christmas Lights.
That December, a friend and I collected milk jugs and asked our friends to help. We collected over 50 jugs, made Chinese lanterns of them with votive candles and kitty litter, and attached a Christmas card to each milk jug handle. It took us days to complete.
On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, our families worked up two city blocks, placing a lantern in front of each home. I was nervous placing candles in front of some of our neighbors’ homes; sometimes inner city neighbors are volatile. It was growing dark, the wind began to whip, and we hurried to light the candles before our family went to Christmas Eve services. I couldn’t be late because the kids were singing before the service, and I was “volunteered” to direct them!
A light dusting of snow began to fall while we were in the service. When we returned home, the white snow dusted the street and sidewalks and reflected off the dark night sky. There was a unique calm and silence on our street. In front of each house, reflecting against the snow, were our recycled milk jug Christmas lights. They lit the path to our newly rebuilt home.
The neighbor I most paused at leaving a light in front of had rearranged the milk jugs so there were three lights in front of her home. Even they caught the Christmas spirit that evening.
My prayer now, as my kids are teens, is that they remember to share the light they have with others, especially in bad times. And they know no matter how bad things are, there will always be a path of lights leading them home for Christmas.