It was Christmas Eve of 1988. The telephone rang at 5:30 in the morning. Any call at that hour couldn’t be something good. I handed the phone to my husband, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, then the president of the Franklin Tennessee Stake. He hung the phone up after a brief conversation.
“That was the county sheriff,” he said. “He told me our stake center [some 10 miles from our home] has sustained some damage from a tornado, and he thought I might want to come down and assess the damage.”
I was surprised, as was he. There had not been any warning of one. Gentle rain fell in the night but was not accompanied by high winds.
The damage, Elder Christofferson found, was much more severe than we had imagined. This building, which had been dedicated just three years earlier, looked as though a giant wrecking ball had swung through its center, taking most of the roof over the cultural hall and flinging it far away and dumping the rest on the floor. Structural damage to the adjacent halls and rooms was also severe.
As word spread, priesthood quorums and other members came quickly, clearing the debris and stabilizing and protecting areas that were not damaged. This work went on for hours, but no one left. Some anonymous Good Samaritan, demonstrating true Christmas spirit, had a restaurant deliver several pizzas to our chapel to feed this hungry but thankful work crew.
With Christmas Eve preparations now being put on hold, adjustments had to be made. The timing of this tornado was inauspicious considering the holiday it disrupted. An added wrinkle was the need to find a place for our ward’s sacrament meeting the next day, as Christmas fell on Sunday that year. President Christofferson, and our bishop, Tom Allen, were frantically making those arrangements. Two Nashville wards in our stake met in a meetinghouse 18 miles away, and one invited us to join with them in their sacrament meeting the next morning.
So, the program would be different from what we had anticipated, but on this day, it was the most heartfelt celebration of that humble birth of the Savior that we had ever experienced. Suddenly we understood how it felt to be totally displaced and without “housing.” We were given temporary “lodgings” as were Joseph and Mary, but then their stable was, indeed, less suitable than was that shared chapel for us.
Joseph and Mary were able to find better lodging later on. As it tells us in Matthew 2:11, the wise men found Jesus with Mary, his mother, in a house. Our ward was shown compassion by a church not of our faith who offered their gym for our youth to continue their sports programs through the winter and spring. We were allowed to meet in the local high school for our Sunday services.
We thought of the great blessing that came to Mary and Joseph when the wise men presented costly gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Perhaps these gifts were what sustained this holy family during those years of exile in Egypt until Herod’s death.
We felt a similar blessing due to the tithes of faithful members of the Church who made it possible for our chapel to be rebuilt in a timely manner so that we could rejoice in its rededication nine months later. Sometimes the Lord allows events to occur in our lives that we would not have chosen, but He uses these to teach us invaluable lessons that bring us closer to Him and help us treasure the truly priceless blessings that the Christ Child would bring into the world as our Redeemer.