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Christmas in October

Like so many, I have difficulty getting into the “Christmas Spirit” each year, despite the holiday music that seems to start playing on the radio and in the stores even before Thanksgiving has arrived.

Eventually, though, I can’t help but be caught up in the holiday spirit and am reminded of what really matters during this special time of year.

Did I mention this annual rekindling occurs in October?

That would have never made sense to me, either, until I began visiting Frostburg Heights, a Diakon Senior Housing Community in western Maryland, with the Flight Program, a tradition that began three years ago.

The residents and staff of Frostburg Heights love the Christmas season and take great joy in seeing their property decorated in literally tens of thousands of tiny, sparkling lights. They like this time so much that they begin their festivities the end of October, coordinated with the arrival of participants and graduates of the Flight Program, who help to hang the lights and dozens of festive decorations both inside and outside the apartment complex.

It’s not the decorating, though, that brings us into the holiday spirit during those annual weekend visits. Rather, it’s the abundant sense of love and appreciation poured so freely on these young men who gladly sacrifice their time and energy to help our neighbors in need.

Many of these older teens and young adults may not have had the traditional family Christmas in years past and some will not experience that again this year either.

Coming from a variety of backgrounds and circumstances, they have each experienced significant disruptions, traumas, and losses that helped to prompt their involvement in one of Diakon Youth Services programs when they were younger. The breakup of the traditional-family unit and the tension and uncertainty of what the holiday season will bring is always a very real struggle and concern that each wrestles with this time of year.

Upon arrival at Frostburg Heights and throughout our weekend visit, that tension seems to disappear—for all of us.

Many of the residents also have experienced challenges and disruptions as well—whether the loss of loved ones, children who may visit less frequently, or simply the decreasing ability to be independent that often accompanies aging.

For this brief time together, over the late-October weekend, none of that is evident.  Instead, we are all enveloped by a tremendous sense of love, appreciation, and genuine sense of excitement to share this time together—the true Christmas spirit.

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Quite a few Flight participants have no living grandparents, but for this magical weekend they are doted on and wrapped in countless hugs and even a few cheek-pinches.

Similarly, residents who may not have the chance to spend the holiday with their own grandchildren seize the opportunity to sit beside these boys and young men during a meal and ask all sorts of questions about their lives and their hopes and dreams.

Worlds that may otherwise feel broken are truly made whole during this special moment in time—Christmas in October.

From the moment we arrive to our reluctant departure at the close of a delicious luncheon accompanied by a presentation and Q&A session with residents (including a generous donation of food and funds gathered for Flight by residents), we can’t help but leave changed.

I found myself caught up in the spirit throughout our time together—from dancing with an 81-year-old (I couldn’t keep up with her!) to feeling tears well in my eyes as we accepted their gracious gifts at our departure.

The first miles of our long van-ride home were silent. If felt as if no one wanted to transition from that sense of love and community we had experienced, that somehow talking would force us back to reality.

Once conversation began, the focus was on in attempts to capture and describe what we had just experienced. In the end we agreed that we had experienced what we all felt Christmas was supposed to be about, thanks to the abundant love poured out by those at Frostburg Heights.

Though some of these young men may not have a positive, stable Christmas celebration this month, they all agreed that Christmas in October will make up for it.

And, yes, on that October day, we found a radio station already playing holiday music. We listened to it the entire trip home.

Rob Kivlan
Diakon Youth Services

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