Like every American, I struggle to make the holidays count for more than gift giving and materialistic mania. I am finding it increasingly difficult to juggle all of life’s demands with my genuine desire to sanctify the holidays in my life and the life of my family. This year has been particularly hard; I’m behind in everything.

I want to make the holidays memorable for my parents who are getting older. I want to make these holidays special for my sons who have just completed rigorous, college final exams. I want to help those around me that I know have true financial needs this holiday season. I want to visit the center for the handicapped like I usually do during the holiday season. I want to take my elderly friend who doesn’t drive to see the Christmas lights. I want to shop for my special middle-school friend, whom I have been tutoring for 6 years. I want to plan a memorable Christmas dinner and experience for my sister and her family who will be with us during the holidays. I desperately want to clean my house for all the family and friends who will be dropping in during the course of the next week or so.

But the sad fact is I have only bought a few Christmas presents and have made an insignificant dent in the “I want” Christmas litany mentioned above. The sadder fact, of which my daughter reminds me hourly, is that there is only one week left until Christmas. I could work from now until Christmas morning—without eating, sleeping, or showering—and not do the important things that I wanted to get done for this holiday season.

Such was my mood when I traveled with my daughter Elizabeth and 16 of her compatriots to Marion, South Carolina, for the production A Hometown Christmas with Steve Gatlin. I did not have time for this trip. I went to be with my daughter and her former dance instructor Pam Bailey, who is a professional choreographer. She has worked with Steve Gatlin on a couple of projects—including choreographing A Hometown Christmas. Pam invited some of her dancers to attend the production, with an opportunity of meeting Steve personally after the show. Since Elizabeth is an accomplished dancer and vocalist for her young years, I thought this would be a great learning experience for her.

The trip to Marion, in an unexpected way, redeemed the holidays for me. It is amazing that Grammy Award winner Steve Gatlin would spend his holidays in this quaint, little, southern town. My amazement evolved into awe as I sat through the spectacular Christmas production that Gatlin hosted. This vintage performer entertained as though there were 500 people in the audience, rather than 50.

Gatlin was splendid, warm, and affable, mingling with the audience while he sang. The cast performing with him was amazingly talented—from the quartet One Generation to the dancers to the band. I kept asking myself, “Is this really happening in Marion?”

The production’s content included favorites designed to evoke memories of traditional hometown holidays like “White Christmas” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” But there was also a true spiritual depth to the program—from old Negro spirituals to “O Holy Night.”

The most poignant moments came--as they should in a well-crafted program—at the beginning and the end. The final piece was a moving rendition of “I Have Seen the Light,” co-written by Steve’s former Sunday School teacher Rob Sterling.