Tucked away among the gifts on Christmas morning is a gold box. And every year, right after we read the Nativity story from Luke chapter 2, it is the first gift we open.
There is no surprise as to what we will find inside. Nothing but slips of paper, one for each member of the family. Silently, we pass out the slips and quietly read what is written. The words are our own, written in our own handwriting, sealed a year early. Last year’s gift to Jesus.
We pause, reflect and ask ourselves if we kept our promise over the past year. Maybe it was a promise to spend more time reading His words. Perhaps we pledged to be more loving to those living with us, or to try to be a better listener. It doesn’t matter what exactly the gift was, but rather that it was a personal gift to the Lord.
Then, in the quiet of the moment, before the chaos of opening gifts begins, we offer a new gift to the Savior in the manger. We reverently write our vows on a new slip of paper and put it into the gold box. The lid is replaced and the box put back under the tree.
Next year it will again be the first gift we open.
Although the entire Christmas season is generally a magical time, there is something spectacular about Christmas Eve.
When I was growing up, I had many favorite Christmas traditions: baking, decorating and delivering Christmas cookies to some of the elderly members of our church; listening to Chrsitmas music; watching Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Lifeor Bing Crosby in White Christmas (and, for some strange reason, The Sound of Music ) all of which came on the TV as this was before the time of VCRs and DVD players. Singing Christmas carols at church all through December; pulling decorations out of the box and hearing my mother recount where she had gotten them; caroling around the tiny village with my church; sipping hot chocolate in the glow of the Christmas lights. These were a few of my favorite things.
But there was one special thing about Christmas in my family that seemed to make the holiday extra exciting. My mother is a Christmas Eve baby.
I was always slightly jealous of my mother’s Christmas Eve birthday. How wonderful it seemed to me to be able to share a birthday with the baby Jesus! The lights, the decorations, the foods, the carols, the parties and gifts … why all of those wonderful activities and traditions must make a Christmas birthday seem to last forever! And who wouldn’t want to extend their birthday celebration out for as long as possible?
The countdown to my September birthday began as soon as school started in mid-August. I was prone to making construction paper chains, snipping one strip off each day as a way of marking the time. I remember always hoping to receive lots of birthday gifts, delighting in the fact that inevitably I would be the center of attention on the day of my birthday.
But my mother never expected anyone to remember or make a fuss over her birthday. She didn’t seem to care if she only got one gift labeled for both birthday and Christmas among all the wrapped presents under the tree, and seemed to actually prefer to think about what good things she could do for others instead of thinking about how people might pay attention to her. And perhaps most of all, she seemed to insist that her three children put our Christmas focus on the Christmas Child in the manger and the reason for His Holy birth.
I suppose a part of me figured she did those things because she was all grown up and grown ups aren’t supposed to love their own birthdays quite as much as little children do. And yet I don’t think that was the case at all. My mother, it seems, was always gracious about her birthday and not prone to expecting a big to-do over it. I know this because …
Tucked away in her wedding album was a letter, written in my grandmother’s beautiful cursive, the paper yellowed and dated December 24th of the year my mom turned 4 years old. Most Christmases, I pulled it out and read it to myself, wondering about the little girl who had grown up to be my mother. I would looked longingly at the old photos of her childhood, thinking how her white-blonde hair, bright blue eyes and sweet smile gave her the appearance of a tiny angel without wings.
The long letter basically recounted my mother’s 4th birthday party, an event in which all the neighborhood children came because Santa was going to be there. When it came my mother’s turn to sit on Santa’s knee, she asked him to bring a doll to a little girl who didn’t have one to play with … my grandmother recorded her as saying, “I already have a lot of dolls and toys.” Even my grandmother seemed to marvel at her oldest daughter’s generosity.
As a child, I believed that my mother got to share her birthday with Jesus because she was so very lovely and good … and I wished I could be that lovely, too.
I know my mom will read this and later on tell me that she doesn’t know where I get my ideas from, but I know deep down how wonderfully special my mom truly is. She has a generous spirit, full of concern and love for others. She is gentle, selfless, kind, and unassuming. Her outlook on life is positive and full of hope for the future.
And yet, as wonderful as my mother is, her Christmas Eve birthday is NOT the reason for the celebration. It’s another birthday that must always take center-stage … the birthday of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us.
There is a common Christmas saying:
Jesus is the reason for the season.
The only thing is that Jesus can’t be just the reason for the season. He needs to be the reason for our every action, every day of the year.
And tonight, as I think about my mother (of whose birth it is said was so late on Christmas Eve that she was nearly a Christmas Day baby), I feel so very grateful that she taught me the importance of loving and worshipping the Holy Baby in the manger every day of the year.
May you celebrate the birth of Christ today, tomorrow and every day to come … Merry Christmas and joy to the world!
On the evening of December 20, 1968 my parents were married in a Christmas service.
Forty-six years later, on the evening of another December 20th, my family represented my father as Grand Marshal in the Christmas Parade. What an honor that the town where my dad grew up and lived out his adult years chose to remember him and his influence in this way.
The local paper had a special write-up about it. This is what the article said:
The year the Terry family will ride as Grand Marshal of the parade as representatives of our beloved Malcolm Terry (1947-2014). Malcolm was a valued member of our village and a friend to all who knew him. He worked willingly with this community, serving as a teacher, principal and deacon in his church. It was his love of community and willingness to serve that pushed him to help organize and serve as president of the newly founded Village of Harrisonburg Service League. Malcolm also served his country in Viet Nam. He was a beloved husband, father and doting grandfather. We are honored to welcome his family as they ride as Grand Marshal in his memory.
When my mother first called to tell me about us riding in the parade as Grand Marshal, I felt honored … but worried as to how we would ever manage to pull this off. It’s not as if my brother, sister or I still live in our hometown of Harrisonburg. And while this isn’t the Rose Bowl Parade, I still wanted to be pleased with whatever float we managed to make.
Which is how I found myself outside on a cold, rainy December day decorating a trailer, along with my siblings and their spouses. We took our inspiration from a family tradition. There are 70 stockings hanging on the wall at my grandfather’s house this year … each one with the name of a child, daughter or son-in-law, grandchild or great-grandchild. Next year we will be adding at least two more stockings, as my sister and a cousin are expecting little girls in 2015. (Hard to believe that our family’s 91-year-old patriarch was an only child! The Lord certainly blessed, and enlarged, his home!)
The above photo shows a part of the giant wall of stockings at the Terry house. In fact, the line of stockings goes the entire length of one wall, turns the corner and fills almost a complete second wall! Seventy stockings takes up a lot of room! I’m sure my grandfather is grateful that no one expects him to fill each one with goodies.
As a tribute to this long-standing Terry family tradition, we lined our float with stockings as well. We also put on lots of colored lights and gold garland.
In the photo below, you can see more of the stockings, lining the sides of the float. You can also see my brother Reid bossing us all around. He made sure we all knew exactly where to sit and how much candy to throw. (OK … just kidding about that. Reid’s not too bossy, but he did tell our niece Sage that she could only throw two pieces of candy at a time. Later on you’ll find out she took that advice to the extreme.)
Speaking of candy, we put our kids on the back of that float and gave them bags upon bags of candy to throw at the waiting crowd. I wish I knew exactly how many pounds of candy we gave them, but it was a lot! To put it another way, my mother filled the back end of her car with the candy to take to the parade line-up and not a single other person could ride with her.
Once the parade got started, those kids threw candy! Some threw it by the large handfuls, requiring a stern reminder not to pelt the onlookers. Others threw it a piece at a time. Some, like my five year old niece Sage, decided to not throw very much candy at all. That smart girl was banking on the hope that whatever amount of candy she had left at the end of the parade would be hers to keep!
It was a little chilly that evening. My sister-in-law Heather saved the day (or rather our fingers) by giving us all tiny hand warmers to tuck away inside our gloves. My mother did her part as well, pulling out all of her quilts and blankets so that all of those sitting on the float we were bundled up and toasty.
Not everyone got to sit on the back of the float. The three big boys (my sons Joel and Nathan, and my nephew Micah) took over the back end of the truck.
My mother and my grandfather sat in the cab of the truck, along with my sister Brooke (who is 8 months pregnant) and her husband Chris (who volunteered to drive us).
Not only was the experience a lot of fun, it helped us all smile on what could have been a very difficult day. The town we loved showed their affection for us as a group, as well as their love for my dad. It was certainly a comfort to be remembered in such a meaningful way.
My father was always proud to call Harrisonburg, Louisiana home. He genuinely loved the people and I don’t think ever desired to live anywhere else on earth.
And even though I love that tiny town as well, my love in my heart for the people there grew significantly as I rode through the streets in the Christmas Parade … and I’m proud to say that I’m from Harrisonburg too.
More than that, I’m proud to say that I am Malcolm Terry’s daughter.
Tonight, once Jon gets off work and we’ve eaten a quick supper, I’ll be heading home for Christmas. And I have to admit that it doesn’t feel quite right now that Dad won’t be there with us.
I had already purchased a gift for my dad prior to his death. I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to give it to him for his November birthday or wrap it up for Christmas. Instead, I used it in our church’s gift exchange last weekend.
Actually, I had completely forgotten about the gift, stashed away in the back of my closet, until I went in to look through my collection of already purchased presents after Thanksgiving. It wasn’t an extremely personal or sentimental sort of a gift, just an outside LED light, the kind that looks like a lantern and has a hook for hanging. This was also came with a bug zapper (which is needed practically year-round in Louisiana). It’s the very sort of thing my dad would have loved. He was forever giving flashlights to people. In fact, my boys have already bemoaned the fact that they won’t be receiving their annual flashlight from Poppa this year for Christmas.
Yes, my father loved flashlights. The man had a vast collection of emergency lighting, everything from dollar store flashlights to kerosene lamps to expensive LED lighting. Oddly enough, most of his great stash of emergency lighting never worked.
In light of my last post (which you can read here), this dichotomy cracks me up. My little foster son and his love for lights sort of reminds me in a weird way of my dad. I think he would have gotten a lot of pleasure out of showing off his flashlight collection to Lil’ Man. Quite often I feel sad that he never got to meet and know my two foster babies. As much as my dad loved children, he would have adored these two little ones.
Going home … back to the ‘Burg and the house on the hill.
This grief I’m experiencing is the strangest thing to my 42 year old mind. My dad died and I find that I just want to be with my Mama, as if I am some child who has woken in the middle of the night needing to be reassured of her presence in the dark. Some days, most days, if I could choose where to go and what to do, I would want to go home just to be there with my mother. And yet, nothing makes me sadder than going home.
Sadder because there, in the places my dad lived out his life, I miss him more than ever. His figure seems to be waiting right around the corner of every door. His shadow sitting in every chair. His laughter echoing through the rooms. His cup of coffee just waiting to be poured.
Sadder because my mother, due in part to her own grief and perhaps also because of her reserved and introverted personality, is not truly able to be my comforter. It was not ever really her role in my life even while my dad lived, and so it cannot suddenly become that way in his death … no matter how much I might want it or wish for it. To have other expectations is unfair to her and only serves to increase my own disappointment and grief.
Going home … will it ever feel the same again?
Deep inside my heart is a longing to go home.
I can go back to the town where I grew up, see the familiar faces and drive the roads I know like that back of my own hand. I can return to the house where my parents lived. The furniture inside is still the same. The meals my mother puts on the table are the old favorites we’ve always eaten. Technically, I am home.
Yet, its not quite right. There’s a hole, larger than I’ve ever known before, and because my dad’s not there sitting next to my mom beaming his wonderful smile it doesn’t feel exactly like the same home I’ve always known and loved.
This is the first Christmas without my dad. I’m told that future ones will be easier, that this grief will eventually begin to subside. “You’ll never stop missing your dad,” friends have said. “But the pain will not hurt quit so much.”
I’m sure they are right. One day I won’t feel the deep ache in my heart and the lump in my throat will go away. But I’m not there yet …
Yet, you know … my dad is there. He is in that perfect place of peace and rest, in the arms of the Heavenly Father. No pain. No sorrow. No fear. No worries. Just worshipping the Savior and basking in the glow of the One who is Light … a light that never runs out of batteries or needs recharging or has a burned out bulb.
I can’t go home … for this world is not my home.
My mother has said it to me many times when I would complain about my life’s circumstances:
Paige, don’t expect life to be perfect. If it was, what reason would you have to long for heaven? Remember, this world is not your home.
Her words were truer than true, almost as if the woman read her Bible on a regular basis. (She does! She is a wise one, that mother of mine.)
In fact, she is in good company, for the writer of Hebrews (who many say was the Apostle Paul) said very nearly the same thing:
For this world is not our home; we are looking forward to our city in heaven, which is yet to come. ~Hebrews 13:14 ESV
And Peter wrote about it as well. (Though I do not make The Message my main study Bible, I happen to love the wording for this verse in that translation.)
Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. ~1 Peter 2:11 MSG
I can’t really “go home” as long as I live on this earth. But some day I will go to my eternal home. And because my dad has already gone on before, I long for it just a little more than ever before.
Yes, I’m going home for Christmas. I’ll be there with presents and hugs. I’ll join in the laughter and make memories with the ones I love most on this earth.
And though I’ll miss my dad, I’ll cherish the memories of Christmases we had together … and look forward to the day when I get to go home and join him around the Throne of Grace.
He had been in our home less than half an hour when our new little foster son began to request for us to turn lights on. His chubby toddler hands would point up to the fixture, while in a sweet but insistent voice he would say, “Light? On?”
Before bedtime on that very first night, Jon was in the dining room changing out a burned out bulb in order to please the 22 month old boy who loved lights.
Even now, three months into this foster parenting gig, our family’s favorite two year old is still fascinated with light.
Christmas is a season of light. It seems that everywhere you look, trees and houses are lit up with hundreds upon hundreds of tiny, twinkling lights. Trees glittering through window panes. Colored lights outlining rooftops while white lights make the bushes sparkle.
At Christmas, there is nothing more lovely than a tree lit up with lots of lights. Normally, I relish in decorating our family’s Christmas tree. I love to cover it in lots and lots of lights, and then fill it from top to bottom with hundreds of ornaments. Finally, I wrap the entire tree is sparkly gold ribbon before adding our star to the very top.
Yet, as much as I love the process and result of tree decorating, this year I decided NOT to decorate a tree. It wasn’t easy to come to such a conclusion, but after a two hour attempt to keep our two toddlers from completely destroying my mother’s Christmas tree, … well, I realized it would not be a fun Christmas season if I had to spend every waking moment trying to keep myself between the tree and the toddlers.
At first, I tried to come up with a solution that would still enable me to have my cake and eat it too … or, rather in this case, have my tree and decorate it too. Someone suggested surrounding the tree with baby gates. I considered it, but then realized it would cost me a small fortune for something I really didn’t want to have after Christmas.
I also contemplated putting the tree up in a more out of the way location in our house. However, our home has a relatively open floor plan. The only out of the way locations available were bedrooms, bathrooms and Jon’s home office. None of those options felt like a good place to put the family Christmas tree.
In the end, it seemed as if there were only two options. Put up a Christmas tree and then spend the entire season constantly guarding it from an attack launched by two small children. Or forego the Christmas tree this year and find other ways to decorate our home.
But if I thought I was disappointed about having a year with no Christmas tree, I should realized the magnitude of the reaction I was about to get from my five teens and tweens. When I first broke the news, a few took the news rather well, but there were a couple that stared at me in stunned silence before beginning to beg and plead with me to change my mind. When I wouldn’t, I received several glares that could kill had there be any super powers involved. Fortunately for me, I am raising humans and not super heroes.
My kids are fortunate too, for I am not a mean old Grinch … though they might occasionally beg to differ with me on that point. Still, I never intended NOT to decorate our home for the Christmas season. I just determined that a typical Christmas tree should not be part of this year’s holiday decor.
So instead of focusing on my tree, I decorated the doorways with garlands and decked out the walls.
I set up displays of nativity sets on every solid surface out of reach of little fat fingers.
The stockings were even hung. Not over a chimney, which we don’t have anyway, or in their usual place along the living room shelves. Rather, the stockings found a place to hang over the living room windows. I liked the way they looked, nine stockings hanging in a row.
In the end, there was tree to decorate after all. Last weekend, I found a mini-tree on sale for less than $10, so I got it to put on the ledge above the kitchen sink. It just so happens that it can be seen from the living room as well, which makes this small tree the perfect place to display each person’s new ornament for 2014.
Look and see if you can spot the:
(1) Eiffel Tower for Julia who has been collecting them since her summer trip to Paris; (2) A plane for Joel to remind him of his first trip overseas; (3) A Rubik’s cub for Nate who figured out the key to solving them; (4) A sparkly owl for Meg; (5) A glittery snow fox for Maddie; (6) Two reindeer with the initials K and C for the foster babies; (7) a turquoise and brown cross for Jon; (8) and a cow bell which represents my wedding anniversary to Jon … it was tied to the back of our getaway car at our wedding which will be 4 years ago on Dec. 31st.
But my favorite ornament on this year’s tiny tree is the one I bought just for me!
While I take all the credit for decorating the inside of our home, Jon always takes care of making the outside look merry and bright. This year Megan helped decorate the front yard, stringing lights all around and placing a simple reindeer on the front lawn. As always, they did a fantastic job!
But even though I loved the welcoming look, what I really wished was that we had a little extra money to buy a wreath to hang on the front door. (True fact: When you have seven kids, there is never any extra money.) Imagine my surprise when the very next day my sweet friend Korin gave me a beautiful fresh wreath that she made just for me to hang on my front door.
The perfect finishing touch!
We may not have a tree this year, but the signs of Christmas are all around the house, and I am praying daily for signs of Christmas growing in our hearts as well … the Christmas spirit of generosity and of love and of humble worship.
Three months ago a tiny little boy and his baby sister came to live with us. And from the very beginning, the lights in our home fascinated him.
This Christmas, we have a blessed opportunity to share the wonders of the season with two innocent children. It may be the only chance we have to share Christmas with them. So we will drive that sweet boy up and down the streets after dark, showing him the city all lit up for Christmas. We will bake cookies and open gifts and bask in the glow of Christmas excitement. And through it all, I will hold out hope that on some future day these precious kids will see the pictures and know how much fun our family had sharing this Christmas with them.
But more than anything else, I pray for our little ones’ hearts to be captivated by the Light of this World, the Holy Infant of Bethlehem who came to save us from our sins. We may not have a big Christmas tree and the presents we open may be relatively few, but oh how I hope even at their tender ages they will see the light of His love living in us, and because of that they will long to know Him more.
Because really … that’s what Christmas is all about.
Behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem,saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” ~Matthew 2:2
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” ~John 8:12
The chiming of the doorbell broke the silence of the night.
Jon and I looked at each other in surprised alarm, and then our eyes instantly went toward the clock on the wall. It was nearly 10 pm.
“Who could that be at this time of night?” Jon mused . “And on Christmas Eve.”
Until the doorbell interrupted us, Jon and I had been talking as we in the soft glowing light of the decorated Christmas tree. The kids already been in bed for more than an hour, but preparing for Christmas morning hadn’t taken us any time at all. There were no toys to put together. No mountains of presents to bring out of hiding and place beneath the tree. No items to be sorted and carefully stuffed into stockings.
It had been a hard year for us financially. As always, God had provided for every need, but now at the end of the year there was very little left in our savings. Jon and I were determined not to use credit as we were working diligently to become debt-free, but that meant a lean Christmas budget. In fact, all total, we had just $60 to spend on our kids. Divided equally among the five kids, it meant I had just $12 per child with which to buy gifts and fill stockings.
At first, such a tight budget had left me feeling discouraged. How I could begin to make Christmas seem bright for our children? It definitely felt like a monumental task. But then the words of a familiar Christmas tale echoed in my head:
As a Christian, I already knew this truth, and yet how easy it was to get caught up in all the hoopla of wanting to give my children the typical materialistic American Christmas. To add more fuel to the fire of my worried state, I knew that our five children would receive several gifts from their other parents that were bigger and better than anything I could have afforded if I had spent $60 per child instead of just the $12 I had in my extra-small budget. So I asked the Lord to help me use that $60 to give my family a real Christmas to remember and not to feel jealous when faced with the financial bounty I would see all around me during the season.
Almost immediately, an amazing plan began to fall into place, creative and simple and focused completely on Christ instead of presents. Instead of dreading Christmas morning and fearing looks of disappointment on my children’s faces, now I was excited and eager to watch them experience the Christmas that God was planning for us.
One idea came from my good friend Christie, who makes Sonshine Boxes to cheer up friends. She wraps small trinkets and labels them with Bible verse clues. So I did the same thing. I found some fun treats at the dollar store, and spent hours looking for the perfect verse to be the clue for each item. On Christmas morning, the kids would play a guessing game, reading aloud the verses and and trying to guess what was inside each gift before opening it. The gifts might be small, but I knew my children would have such fun trying to figure out the prizes.
Another idea that came to me had to do with Christmas picture books, in particular a book called Oranges for Frankie (by Patricia Polacco) and The Candymaker’s Gift (by Helen and David Haidle). In the first book, a boy name Frankie loses his Christmas orange and what his siblings do next is simply touching. The second book explains how various traits of candy canes can remind us of Jesus and the Christmas story. We already owned copies of both books, but as a special surprise I bought a chocolate orange and seven nice, fat candy canes. On Christmas morning, I would read the books aloud to the family while we all enjoyed the candy treats.
Finally, instead of filling our stockings to the brim with chocolate kisses and other small trinkets, a terrific idea came to my mind. The week before Christmas, I gave each person in our family several sheets of paper on which I had written: “If I could, I would buy you something good!” I asked each one to think of a special gift they would buy for every other member of the family. On the paper, they could draw a picture, write a note, or paste a magazine clipping there to communicate what they would get for the other person.
All through December, I prepared for our simple Christmas with an excitement in my heart. I just knew that God was going to bless our hearts in a big way, and I was eager to share it with my family.
Soon it was the night before Christmas. After a simple supper, we read the Christmas story from the Bible and sang a few of our favorite carols. By 8:30, all of the children were tucked into bed. All there was for me to do was fill the stockings with the paper notes, set out the two picture books and the basket of candy canes, and set the small trinket gifts which I had already wrapped and labeled with the Bible verses under the tree.
Now, all the Christmas morning preparations were complete. Suddenly, the old fears of not providing a typical Christmas for my children began to flood my mind. As I sat next to my husband in the stillness of the Christmas Eve night, I felt lost in the glow of the lights on the tree and the growing apprehension in my heart about how my children would receive the meager Christmas Jon and I had to offer them.
And then the doorbell rang …
Jon carefully peered out the window, but in the darkness he couldn’t see anyone at all. Cautiously he opened the front door. There was no one there.
“Perhaps they went to the side door, Jon,” I suggested.
Quickly we walked toward the other door. Again, Jon peered out, but again there appeared to be nothing but darkness. Opening the door wider, he stepped out onto the carport concrete … and that’s when he noticed it.
Several extra large gift bags overflowing with presents.
Once again, my husband and I looked at each other bug-eyed. What on earth was this?
Jogging to the end of the driveway, Jon looked around the yard, and up and down the street … but after a minute or so, he turned back. Shrugging, he said, “I didn’t see anything … not even so much as the tail lights of a car.”
“Do you think perhaps someone delivered these gifts to the wrong house? I asked.
Jon laughed. “Well, normally I would say Santa doesn’t make mistakes, but I suppose there is always that possibility.”
Together we brought the bags of gifts inside. We began to spread out the loot, noticing that the gifts were all labeled with names of each member of our family. “I think these are definitely for us!” Jon grinned. “I don’t know why, but someone decided to bless us with some gifts.”
Quickly, Jon and I sorted the gifts into piles. There were a couple of gifts labeled as family gifts, along with a present for Jon and another for me. Each child had a stack of five gifts … well, for every child except for Nathan. He didn’t have anything.
“Do you think our secret Santa forgot about Nathan?” I felt panicky.
“Don’t worry,” Jon said calmly. “There are enough gifts here to spread out the love. Nathan will not be left out. We can unwrap the gifts, reassign them to the kids making sure that Nathan receives an equal amount. Of course, we’ll have to rewrap everything … Do you think we have enough wrapping paper?”
And then the doorbell rang again.
This time, Jon made a mad dash for the door, hoping to catch our family’s secret Santa … but again there was nothing. Nothing, that is, but a large bag filled with exactly five gifts, all labeled for Nathan.
It was early the next morning when the kids woke us up, eager to see what Christmas surprises lay in store. As we led them into the living room, a gigantic pile of gifts sat in the middle of the room.
A collective gasp rose from the kids.
“But I thought you said we weren’t going to get a lot of gifts this year!” Julia protested.
“I did. And truthfully, I didn’t think you were. But God had other plans.” I smiled. “Sit down and let me tell you about what happened after you went to bed on Christmas Eve.”
Jon and I retold the story. Then before we dove into the unexpected gifts, we went through our Christmas morning plan … playing the guessing game with the small gifts and Bible verses, reading the picture books and enjoying the candy, and oohing over the stockings filled with sweet notes from our family.
Already our hearts were full, and yet we knew that through a friend God had provided even more for us to enjoy on the blessed Christmas morning. As we opened our unexpected gifts, each one seemed to be perfectly chosen for the recipient.
To this day, we have no idea of who brought us the Christmas Eve gifts … but we remember how loved we felt by our special friend and by our Heavenly Father, who indeed answered my prayers and gave us a $12 Christmas to remember.
Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift! ~2 Corinthians 9:15
What you are about to read is my family’s actual Christmas letter from 2008. I’ve written about it many times before, but never before on this blog. Many of my readers might well remember “The Great Christmas Card Fiasco of 2008” and perhaps even followed my woeful tale on Facebook. If you have heard or read this story before, then I hope you won’t mind rereading it again. Maybe it will even bring a smile to your face as you relive a Christmas past along with me. However if you’ve never heard this me tell this tale, then may it bless your heart as much as God has used it to bless mine over the past 6 years. And if you laugh, don’t feel bad. It’s one of those memories I love to laugh about now, even though at the time it certainly wasn’t very funny.
Dear Family and Friends,
Have you ever felt like things were going wrong at every turn, and that no matter how hard you tried things just didn’t go according to your plan? Perhaps you can relate … but if not, please bear with me while I tell my story.
Earlier this month I ordered Christmas photo cards. From the start, it all seemed to go wrong. I placed my order online, and discovered soon afterward that the company I used was brand-new. They were overwhelmed with many more orders than they expected, and so were unable to process my order in a timely manner. Once my order finally got shipped, winter weather kept delaying the cards as they slowly made their way to my doorstep. Originally I was supposed to have received my cards by December 10th, which would have given me plenty of time to address and mail out the cards in a timely manner. However, as my luck would have it, the cards didn’t show up in my mailbox until the afternoon of December 22nd.
I was already somewhat upset about the lengthy delay, so imagine my shock when I opened my package and saw the the Christmas photo cards I ordered had arrived minus the photo! Who ever heard of a Christmas photo card without the photo?!? I was livid! In that moment, all of my Christmas joy seemed to have been zapped away.
The more I thought about it, the more the situation seemed dire and bleak. It was too late in the day to call the company; too late in the season to order new Christmas cards. I felt as if the entire world was working against me mailing out a few Christmas cards. My heart was filled with a hopeless dismay.
Well, after the hot angry tears were all wiped away and a good night’s sleep had given me a new perspective, the thought occurred to me that maybe Joseph felt like the world was working against him on that very first Christmas. I wondered what thoughts and emotions went through is head as he tried and tried to find a safe place for Mary. And when he could find no room in the inn and had to take refuge in a barn, did he question himself as to why this was the best he could manage to do for his wife and the newborn Son of God? It seems unlikely that Joseph had first-hand knowledge that it was God’s intention for the King of Kings to be born in a lowly stable. Maybe he did, but I have a feeling that Joseph felt a lot of dismay and frustration with the situation.
Obviously my situation didn’t have nearly the same level of urgency as what Joseph must have experienced. After all, as awful as it seemed in the moment, “The Great Christmas Card Fiasco of 2008” is far from being the worst thing that has ever happened in the history of mankind. In fact, it’s not even close to being the worst thing that has ever happened to me.
Truthfully, I can’t even really say it was bad because in the end the company apologized for their terrible mistake and gave me a full refund on the cards, which is honestly the best thing they could do under the circumstances. And even though this is definitely not the card I had intended to send to all of my loved ones, my sweet children were very eager to help me make lemonade from the lemons thrown our way by drawing pictures of themselves into the blank photo spot so that the cards weren’t a total waste. Free Christmas cards can’t be all that bad!
So maybe this won’t be the best or most beautiful Christmas card you receive this season, but I imagine it will be the most unforgettable card. I’m hoping to send out real photo cards sometime this spring, but until then the kids and I hope you will enjoy this original creation from our house.
May your home be filled with peace and joy … and may your hearts stay merry and bright throughout 2009!
Of course, it never is. Christmas will come and go, and once again I will have not reached my annual goal.
Memorize Luke Chapter 2.
When I was in the 4th grade, my teacher, Mrs. Jean E. Mitchell, assigned our class a Christmas Challenge. We were to commit to memory the entire T’was The Night Before Christmas poem (properly entitled A Visit From St. Nicholas) by Clement C. Moore.
I remember like it was yesterday (rather than actually 33 years ago). Mrs. Jean E. passed out mimeographed copies of the poem, which she had handwritten perfectly with no mistakes whatsoever. The thick packet broke the poem into six sections. We had less than a month to learn all six parts. As I stared at the papers, my throat got heavy and I felt a little dizzy. And way down deep in my heart was this growing fear of failure.
What if I can’t do it?
Up until 4th grade, all assignments had been easy for me. I kept an easy A-average in all subjects, and my name was always on the honor roll for excellent grades.
Fourth grade, however, had not been nearly as easy-peasy as all the other grades. Mrs. Jean E. was a workhorse sort of teacher, who held very high expectations for all of her students. Making a 100 on an assignment meant that not only were all the answers correct, but that the handwriting was worthy of a 100 as well. I loved her, and disliked her, for that.
As soon as Mrs. Jean E. issued her Christmas Challenge, I knew that in order to get full credit for memorizing that long poem a student would have to say it perfectly, pronouncing each word clearly and not skipping a single line or stumbling over any parts. As I flipped through the pages on my desk, I knew it was a monumental feat.
I also knew I could do it.
Earlier during the 4th grade year, Mrs. Jean E. had assigned other poems for us to memorize. There were some lovely short poems on autumn, and a couple of hymn stanzas on the beauty of the earth. I don’t remember much about reciting those poems in class. But I do recall how later on Mrs. Jean E. approached me on the playground, calling me away from the others girls and the jump ropes. She asked if I might like to recite the poems as part of a program for a local Women’s club. I’m sure she partly asked me because my mother, who was her friend and fellow teacher, would also be there. And yet, in my 9 year old heart, I felt such honor at being asked to perform on behalf of my beloved teacher.
Dressed in my best Sunday outfit, a dark red velveteen dress with a lacy collar, I held my mother’s hand as we walked into the fancy meeting room at the local bank, feeling so grown up to be out after dark with her alone, going to a meeting with other women. Later, I proudly recited my poems to the roomful of ladies. My cheeks blushed with pleasure at the polite applause I received.
Now, seated at my desk, holding a much more challenging piece in my hand, I wondered if anyone would ever want to hear me recite this poem … or if I would ever have the opportunity to recite it for a group of eager listeners.
Night after night, I worked on that poem. There was so much more than simply committing it to memory. The poem contained some hard, unfamiliar words, like kerchief, obstacle and coursers. Mrs. Jean E. would not be satisfied if her students didn’t also know the meaning of each one. My vocabulary grew as I stretched my brain to put to memory the words.
At first, I practiced reciting the poem in my bedroom, but later I decided that standing in front of the fireplace provided more inspiration for me. Most nights, after dinner, father would listen to me as he smoked his pipe. He would calmly flip the pages as I recited line by line.
“Hmmm. Not quite,” he would say. “You skipped a section. Go back and say the part about the moon and how it looked on the snow.”
I yearned for the times he would nod his head. “Yes. That was good. I believe you have that part down pat. Now it’s time to learn the next section.”
December usually crawls by at a snail’s pace for most children. I guess that was a good thing, because as the time slowly passed I began to wonder if I would ever memorize the entire poem before school let out for the holidays. Day after day after day I worked and practiced. Would I ever get all the words learned by heart? Yet the fear of failure pushed me to work harder.
Then came the blessed night I got it all right! Every word in every line … I had memorized the entire poem! I could say it from beginning to end. All that was left was to say it in front of my classmates.
The next afternoon Mrs. Jean E. gave me the opportunity to recite the poem. As I walked to the front of the classroom, Mrs. Jean E. perched herself upon a stool near the back. “Now, class,” she began, “I am going to need each of you to help me watch to make sure that Paige gets the entire poem correct. Please pull out your papers so that you may follow along with her.” There was a brief rustling as all eighteen of my classmates pulled out their own worn copies of the mimeographed poem.
And then, in the quiet of the room, Mrs. Jean E. gave me the signal to begin … a big smile and the briefest of winks. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, put a smile on my face. And then off I went, reciting …
T’was the night before Christmas, when all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse….
It’s sort of a Christmas Eve tradition around here. Sometime before bed, not long after the Christmas story has been read, someone will smile and ask.
“Say it from memory, Momma!”
Of course, I must. But first, I pull out our old worn copy of the picture book and give it to some child seated nearby, who will be responsible to follow along, checking my every word. After all, in order for it to count, I must get every word in every line absolutely correct.
Much to the delight of my children, I always do. Afterwards, I take pleasure in the raucous applause of the audience, who sometimes asks me to do it again.
Some year, I hope to be able to recite the Christmas story from memory.
Considering all that’s on my plate these days, I figure that once again this will not be the year it happens … but I’m going to try anyway. I’ll turn in my Bible to the familiar story and read the words again and again. Not only will I whisper the words repetitively, but I will mediate and reflect until I have full understanding of what each word, phrase and line means.
Perhaps Jon will help me. He doesn’t smoke a pipe, but surely he will sit and listen and follow along, gently correcting me if I miss a word or a verse here and there. Maybe by Christmas Day, I’ll get another 2 or 3 verses memorized.
And maybe, in some future year I will have it all learned. Perhaps someday I will delight in hearing one of my grandchildren say, as they pull down the worn Bible,
Say it from memory, Grandma!
I’ll close my eyes, and whisper a prayer. And then, with a wink of my eye, off I’ll go reciting the words from my heart just as much from my memory.
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.