SALT LAKE CITY — Deseret News reporter Lois Collins tells the story this week of Scott Dalgarno, a Presbyterian minister who knows a thing or two about Christmas, "the birth of hope" and the depths of despair.
He remembers when his father was in the hospital over the holidays, and that on Christmas day doctors came to them and told his father that his cancer was terminal. That it came on Christmas day helps him understand the sorrow that he knows many people feel at this time of year.
As Lois writes: "People may mourn the death of a parent, a child, a beloved friend. They may weep because a relationship or marriage died or pine because those ties were never born. Some children wake Christmas morning with a parent deployed overseas, absent and perhaps in peril. People may reel who are lonely or ill or face something daunting, like addiction, unemployment or the kind of natural disaster that just stripped thousands of Californians of their homes."
Dalgarno now spends his time helping such people overcome the grief of what he calls a blue Christmas and encourages others to look outside themselves to serve and help those around them. Lois' story, headlined "Blue Christmas," is worth reading and it is inspiring to read of how people overcome their grief by helping others overcome their own.
Over the years I've been asked how individuals and families deal with the heartache they suffer. Often it comes in the form of a question to a journalist: "How do you manage your emotions reporting on grief, evil acts, catastrophe, disasters and other difficulties?
The answer comes from witnessing the ability of those among us to overcome the unbearable. From seeing them find meaning in the experience. There is inspiration in the struggle. Light chases away dark.
As Christmas arrives, faithful believers in the divinity of Jesus Christ note what he overcame to bring the gift of redemption to all.
Here then is a look back at five inspiring stories written this year in the Deseret News that each offer hope.
Justin Haggard had spent most of the last four years of his life homeless in downtown Salt Lake, scraping money together to feed his addiction. He died alone, on the street, in Salt Lake City, despite having a great friend of 30 years who did what she could for him, a loving church leader who reached out, and others who loved him.
This story was tragic, yet the reaction inspiring. It resonated with people downtown and we heard from residents who said they would no longer look the other way when encountering an obviously homeless person. They would choose to look them in the eye and acknowledge them, and help where they can.
Whitney Morrill went to hell and back. A Mormon mom who became addicted to opioids after suffering a back injury, she ended up on the streets of Salt Lake City. But her life changed thanks to parents who never gave up, and a cop who didn't see a worthless druggie, but a woman in need.
As the story states: “'I thought it was the end of the world,' she said. She drove to the shelter around 10:30 p.m. She bought heroin. She was walking back to her car when red-and-blue lights flashed. She was arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance. As the officer drove her to the Salt Lake County Jail, he never stopped talking, telling Whitney she was a good person and that her life didn’t have to be like this.
'I don't think that cop will ever know what he did for me,' Whitney says. 'He saved my life that night.'"
For Immaculée Ilibagiza, the date April 7, 1994, divides her life. Before, it was about safety and family. After, it was slaughter and death. She survived the genocide in Rwanda by spending three months hiding with seven other women in the cramped 3-foot-by-4-foot bathroom of a neighbor who was a Protestant pastor.
She came to Utah this past year to ask Americans to help Rwandan children become educated. But her message was one of forgiveness, born from having to remain silent in that small space day after day as death and destruction reigned outside.
“The answer was very clear to me. Forgive one another … not just because it’s nice. It’s what you do if you want to live in peace. Love one another. It’s what to do if you want to live happy. "
Eight refugee woman gather each week in the Women’s Knitting Circle and have more in common than simply new lives in Utah. Each is also a survivor of torture, and now use knitting needles to, well, knit their lives back together. They draw strength from each other and bring inspiration to all who come in contact with them.
“The knitting circle has saved my life,” Christine Mukankusi, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, told Deseret News reporter Gillian Friedman. “Knitting with the others keeps me busy and I can’t think about most things I’ve been through. When I’m doing it I feel joyful and happy.”
This was among the most personal stories we told this year as we recounted the firestorm that ravaged Napa and Sonoma counties, where my wife and I raised our family. "Hunted by fire" recounts the experiences of the Reisners and the Darrimons and the Heinbaughs, my friends, all of whom lost their homes in the fire.
Here, in despair, they bowed their heads and gave thanks for their survival and the deeper bonds they created with each other. Their faith was strengthened.1 comment on this story
"This is a concrete jungle," Jack Reisner told Deseret News reporter Tad Walch in Santa Rosa. "Who would think a fire could wipe it out?"
As the story states: "His wife described the flames as hell on Earth. He had a different analogy. He remembered gathering dried-out Christmas trees and burning them in a pasture in Utah as a teenager. They burned with white and yellow flames. 'Hell to me isn't flames,' he said. Hell to me is dark and cold. The light of the Savior is warmth, pure and positive."
May we each feel warmth and light through whatever despair comes our way.