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A Bridge to Miracles

I sat wide-eyed and breathless listening to my best friend Lisa carefully explain the miracle of Santa Claus, a jolly old man with a white fluffy beard and a magical sleigh led by reindeer. Every Christmas, she told me, he would fly around the world granting the wishes of well-behaved boys and girls. How could we not have heard of this magical man in Indonesia? I wondered, barely containing my excitement. Indonesia is probably too hot for his reindeer, my seven-year-old mind reasoned.

I had just immigrated to Australia from Indonesia and couldn’t wait to experience the miracle of Santa. I had been miserable since the move following my parents’ bitter divorce. I missed my mother, who had left, and I missed my dad, who was still based in Indonesia, leaving me with strict Chinese grandparents who believed abusive behavior was an acceptable form of “tough love.” I missed my cousins and friends. I missed Indonesian food. I missed home.

I hung on every word from Lisa as she unveiled the secret of Santa. Finally! Something I liked about this odd new world! I learned that any child could receive a visit from him—along with the toys they wanted—by writing a letter to him about how good they had been.

I raced home that afternoon to immediately begin working on my letter. It would take time as every word needed to be perfect. I wrote late into the evening, neatly listing my achievements and good grades—all “A’s” except for one “B” in spelling. (I was still struggling with my new language.) I carefully detailed how I helped my grandparents and how I always did my best to behave. Wait till Santa gets my letter, I thought. Once he sees how good and hardworking I’ve been, he will surely grant me my one toy request: A Cabbage Patch doll.

On Christmas Eve, I carefully cleared a spot for Santa on our small balcony. With no chimney on the roof of our modest third-floor apartment, he would need a different place to land and enter. I left a bowl of water for his reindeer, in case they would be thirsty. I pulled up a chair against the wall near the balcony doors, where I placed my letter, tucked in an envelope with stickers of smiley faces. I propped it up just-so, ensuring he would see it. After I was done, I stepped back to admire my work. It was the perfect first hello from me to Santa.

The next morning, I woke with a jolt, surprised I had managed to fall asleep. I tossed back the covers and dashed down the hall, my heart racing with excitement. I ran to the spot I had cleared for Santa, giggling with delight. But… nothing had changed. The bowl of water and my handwritten letter was still there, all untouched. The smiley faces on the envelope now seemed to be laughing at me. What happened? Did Santa forget me? How was that possible? He is all-knowing and loving. And he always managed to visit all the other children. Did I do something wrong?

I sat heartbroken on the floor reading my letter to Santa with a lump in my throat as I looked for clues. Where did I go wrong? And then, it struck me. The “B!” It was the B I had gotten in spelling! I was still learning the English language but that was no excuse. I needed to do better! Wow, Santa really does know everything!

The next year, I was determined to work and study even harder. I scored a hundred percent on every math test. I was extra kind to everyone, especially the teacher (she probably shared our report cards with Santa). I did all the chores my grandparents asked, immediately. Best of all, I eliminated the errant “B” on my report card, getting straight “A’s”! I couldn’t wait to get my Cabbage Patch doll! I could see Santa gleefully placing my doll in his toy sack. I wondered what color hair and eyes she would have. It didn’t matter; I would love her regardless. 

The night before Christmas, I repeated my routine, making room on the balcony, setting out a bowl of water for the reindeer, and propping up my envelope, this time with stickers of elves for extra brownie points. The next morning, I once again jolted out of bed, dashed down the hall and ran to the spot to greet my doll. But… nothing. Again! My letter sat unopened, the water undisturbed, and not a single gift. My legs buckled as I slumped to the floor. I had been such a good girl! The empty space around my letter reflected the deep void I felt in my heart. I was crushed, confused and… done. Santa did not believe in me, so I would not believe in him. I would never write to that cruel and unfair man again. Even if he gave me a doll, I would throw it back at his fat face! He was not magical—he was mean.

From that moment on, Christmas was no longer a time of joyous hope, but a stark reminder of how I was different from and perhaps inferior to others. Anytime a kid at school talked about the presents they received from Santa, it felt like a bandage ripped off my still-healing heart, the heaviness weighing on me like a slab of stone from a Roman ruin—part of the past but no less heavy or real.

Like all children, I eventually learned the truth about Santa. While it was devastating news for the other kids, it provided an explanation and some relief for me. But the damage had already been done. His painful absence, on top of that of my parents, was my emotional tipping point. Rather than providing a flicker of light at the end of a dark and dreary tunnel, Santa slammed it shut. I was determined to never again believe in miracles or wonder. And “hope” was as phony as Santa himself, a fairytale that ultimately gives way to the sad reality. There was no deeper meaning beyond our mere existence. Life was bleak.

My negative association toward Christmas lasted well into early adulthood. There were rare occasions when I would find myself enjoying the holidays, but an inner voice would gradually creep in from a well of darkness where the wounded child resides, whispering, “Don’t get too happy. You will only be disappointed.” I would want to leave the celebration, crawl into bed, and pull the covers over my head, just as that crestfallen little girl had done so many years ago. It was a victorious battle when I stayed.

Then one Christmas everything changed. A dear college friend of mine, Kym, was going through a difficult time and needed my help. Her parents were in the middle of a divorce and it would be Kym’s first holiday with a broken family that was once inseparable. She had grown up in the loving and supportive family I had always admired and wished for, but it had come at a cost. It had left her unprepared and unable to cope with challenges that exists outside of that comforting cocoon, let alone the sorrow and suffering that its end can bring. On the other hand, I was all too familiar with the feelings of loss, grief, sadness and resentment—along with the well-worn path toward healing. I could help her.

As I sat consoling her, words poured out like a soothing lotion healing the blistering emotions she felt. Suddenly, it occurred to me. The emotional suffering that I had endured for so many years, was the very thing that now enabled me to ease the sorrow and suffering of a friend. I was overwhelmed by the revelation. Not only did light now shine in my once dark tunnel, its illumination had transformed the tunnel itself into a healing bridge.

For years, I was consumed with sadness and despair, believing Santa—the Universe, Life, God—had betrayed me, providing no gifts or miracles in any form. But in fact I had been given the greatest gifts of all: resilience, inner strength, empathy, and compassion.  While I ached so desperately for a fairytale miracle on the outside, I failed to see the unfolding miracle within: an emotional alchemy that can transform disappointment and suffering into kindness and wisdom—a gift more precious than gold or any popular doll. 

Rather than wallowing in self-pity and resentment about my childhood, I suddenly felt gratitude for every disappointment. For without them, I would never have been able to help my friend, nor the many others who so often need understanding and guidance through difficult times when all seems lost.

This wondrous outlook, born out of compassion and care, allowed me to cross a bridge from sorrow to strength, from helplessness to transformation, a miraculous bridge that exists within all of us. And at any time, we can choose to take that bridge. 

It’s not about how we celebrate Christmas or any other holiday. It’s about knowing that within you is a world full of wonder, as enchanting as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, or any other mythical figures. 

Remember this and you give yourself (and others) a gift that outshines anything Santa could possibly deliver: the realization that You are the miracle.

Comments (21)

  1. Sherly, thank you for sharing. You truly are a little duckling who became a beautiful, exquisite, fierce, wise & loving swan. You are an inspiration to me. I’m so grateful & happy to know you!!!

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Dawna. Your lovely presence is always felt and appreciated in class. I’m grateful for YOU.

      1. What an amazing beautiful story! I was crying for little Sherly but this is so inspiring. You are so awesome. Sending love & light and a truly happy holiday wish to you!

  2. Sherly, this is a wonderful parable about life and how we manage it. I can totally empathize with so much of the story. Thank you!! Speaking of crossing bridges, I’m sure you’ve heard the story of “The Rainbow Bridge”. If not, you can Google it. It has great meaning for anyone who has ever felt the pain of the loss of a beloved pet. It’s heartwarming.

  3. Dear Sherly, I always seat in awe at the tales and stories you share when you start your classes. I waited all day to find a special time at night to read your story. It was like magic to my heart and you cane holding a bright star of gratitude. No mud, no lotus. Lots of love and happy holidays:)

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Gigi. It warms my heart to hear how my stories can positively effect you. I truly appreciate your unwavering support in person and through social media. Much love to you. Happy Holidays!

  4. Oh Sherly – I just read your story. You took me from utter sadness for the forgotten little girl, to a feeling of everlasting hope. I never would have guessed you were EVER anything but the positive, uplifting, compassionate person you are today. I feel like the Grinch whose heart swelled ten times. Thank you for giving a meaning of Christmas I never knew existed.

    1. Thank you for your kind-hearted reply, Nina. Like you, most people never would have guessed how my childhood was, which is why I share those stories when I can. For people to feel that if I can make that transformation, then they can too. I’m so glad you ended with a feeling of everlasting hope.

  5. Sherly!! What a beautifully written and tremendously touching story. I literally have tears in my eyes 💕🙏🏼 Thank you for sharing your powerful lesson.

  6. I knew I found you for a reason. Our stories are reversed in that I was forced to grow up at a young age due to n ugly divorce, custody battle & all that goes with it. I decided to learn from what I was living through & have been caretaker to many for years. Long story short I am an adult who now needs to take care of me. Life & career are in my hands. A hard lesson to learn, but so needed. You are beauty in every way & I’m grateful I am finally in a place to do the necessary work & have you to help guide me.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Liz. And for sharing your story. I’m excited for this phase in your life and how you get to take care of you. I am happy to guide you in any way I can.

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