The first Christmas after my husband died was brutal. I found myself all too often isolating myself. It was far too tempting to mattress surf for days at a time…piles of used tissues and empty Ben & Jerry’s containers littering my room. It was too much to ask to get up, shower, brush my teeth, and dress…let alone go outside and DO something.

One afternoon, I found a little inner spark. Something said… “Get up and go. There’s something out there for you to do today!” It took everything I had to do it, but I found myself in the car and heading to town. I’d lived in a small town on the western slope of Colorado for many years. I knew people, and they knew me. I headed to the mall where I was sure to run into someone who could give me the hugs I desperately needed.

The shops were bustling and bright with cheerful music pumping through the speakers overhead. Everywhere I looked there were sparkles and light. It hurt my eyes. It hurt my heart. But, still…I moved forward. The first person I ran into was Mary Ann. As soon as she saw me, she came out from behind the counter and held me close. She whispered how sorry she was for my loss. I thanked her and held on for the kind of hug that releases healing hormones.

I wandered from store to store, absentmindedly touching merchandise. I was drawn to soft, comforting things. I bought a minky fleece throw to snuggle up with on these cold, dark nights alone. I needed a new screen protector for my phone, so I stood at the counter waiting for the clerk to install it. While I waited, another friend came up to me and greeted me. After the initial pleasantries, she asked… “How’s your husband doing?”

She didn’t know.

I think those encounters were the hardest, because I had to let the person know what happened, comfort them when they felt bad for asking, and navigate another bump in the road. I was grateful when the clerk announced he was done, and I could make my escape.

I wandered on till I came to the busiest area in the mall…Santa’s Village. There sat the most beautiful Santa I had ever seen, with three little children sitting on his lap. They were gazing at him in wonder…their big eyes wide…their fat little baby hands clinging to the candy cane they had each received. Santa listened carefully to the children’s requests and soon they were having their picture taken and saying goodbye.

I didn’t even realize tears were dripping off my chin. My heart was breaking open…beauty did that in those early months of grief. I shook myself out of my reverie and noticed Santa staring intently at me. Our eyes locked and he tilted his head ever so slightly. Then he moved over in his chair and gently patted the seat beside him.

I looked around to see there was no one there but me, so I slowly stepped forward and sat gingerly on the edge of the chair. I held my hands clasped hard in my lap. My lip quivered and I didn’t dare make eye contact with Santa. We sat quietly for several moments when I finally took in a deep breath and sighed.

“My husband died. I need a new heart.”

I felt Santa soften, he gently draped his arm around my shoulder and drew me slightly closer.

“I’m so sorry,” he whispered.

I softly cried for several minutes as he waited patiently for me to regain my composure. We sat and talked for a bit then more children came. As I gathered my purse and coat to leave, Santa put his hand on my arm.

“Will you have your picture taken with me?”

I smiled like a schoolgirl and said, “Really???”

We had our picture taken and I left clutching it in my hands like a treasure. I was emotionally drained. There were few places in those early months that truly brought me comfort. As I sat in my car, the only place I wanted to be was in my camper. “TOW-Wanda” was parked in a field about 15 miles away and we had a good two feet of snow over the weekend. But I was determined.

I drove to the storage area and slogged through snow drifts over my knees till I got to my sweet camper. I fumbled with the keys till I finally got the door opened and climbed inside. I kicked off my boots, pulled out the warm fuzzy blanket I had just purchased, and climbed into the bed I kept ready for just such impromptu visits. I propped up the picture of me and Santa and drifted off into the first deep, restful sleep I’d had since my husband’s death.

There is something so incredibly healing about my camper. It’s my sanctuary. My safe place. It’s where I can cry and laugh and dream and rest. It’s where I found myself. And it’s where God and I glued all those broken pieces back together again…one campfire at a time. I hope your camper is your sanctuary, too.

Be blessed…

Ginny McKinney – Marshmallow Ranch

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Psalms 34:18

About Ginny McKinney

Ginny wasn’t raised as a camping kid. Her first real camping experience was as a teenager in an old musty-smelling canvas hunting tent with her boyfriend’s family. His mom slept between the two of them. She snored. It wasn’t a good experience.

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