This is something I prepared to read for some of my family in Missouri this weekend. I wanted to share something that would cast a backward glance at our story and capture why Christmas is more important to me now that I’ve lived a bit:
As a child there was nothing more wondrous, more full of meaning, more certain than the expected joy of those wrapped gifts under the tree. Each year at least one week before the day, my sisters and I would gather under the tree to count our wrapped presents, touch them, shake them, turn them upside down, listen to them, and I’ll admit, when the suspense got to be too much and sisters weren’t around, rip the tiniest hole to peek and then retape it.
But by say age 12 the wonder and awe of Christmas was wearing off. There were only so many Hot Wheels, Tonka Toys and GI Joes in the world, and at the time I started learning that friends at school were going for the bigger ticket items, the electronic goods like video games, stylish clothes, basketball shoes that let you jump higher. And around that time I knew my parents were not even going to be on that page. They’d raised us as kids on the ten commandments and because the others (like murder, adultery, idolatry) were easy to obey, they put Coveting, the practice of wanting to possess what your neighbor has, on a pedestal. One thing that made that easier, and that I now practice with my own kids, was the banishment of advertising whenever possible.
So at age 12, having gotten off the toy carousel, my presents started getting smaller and flatter. Checks started appearing in cards with sums to be used for music lessons. Pants, socks and whatever else you give a pre-teen. So I’ll admit I looked around under the tree and felt like I was gypped. The number of my presents was drastically decreasing compared to that of my eight year old sister, still in the thralls of her toyland bliss. Then I looked over at dad, the guy who got the fewest presents. Was he faking his joy for our sakes? Was this whole show just a charade? He seemed to seriously enjoy watching us open presents when he knew we never bought him big ticket items.
It was truly a threshold moment when I learned that as my tastes in things changed it meant I was changing too. In a few more years I would sell the massive (to me) baseball card collection I’d spent years nursing and archiving. Life was moving fast and I was trying to make sense of my family. We were different than most. I had a hard time forming friendships with kids my own age. I had a different way of seeing the world, and where for other kids whose parents had “normal” jobs that drew a paycheck, my family lived in a community that held all things in common, threw massive parties for the needy at the downtown convention center, and shared our family with thousands of people on television.
At age 12 I didn’t know what a treasure our family was. I was growing up in a way I didn’t ask for, unsure of what I was becoming. But I had a strong sense that every year Christmas would come, presents would arrive from relatives in Texas and we’d all celebrate in a traditional way. My mother went out of her way to decorate and set everything in order. Looking back at the family she’d needed growing up, she made for this family, her family, the beautiful Christmas she hadn’t had for herself, year after year.
Now at age 35 I think back to what my dad got by looking at us open presents every year with more understanding. We were his great gift. A present testimony to God’s faithfulness again. No matter his personal struggles, no matter the weight he felt as a minister, no matter the battles he was fighting real or imagined, God was again faithful to us as a family. God was our provider, our portion in life, or sustainer.
In more recent years our lives have brought us seismic changes. My mother and grandfather have gone to be with Jesus and God has blessed my father with a new life to share with Debra. Jen and Nate have recently received the great gift of their firstborn son Henry and we all travailed long and hard with them in prayer over his arrival into this world. God has brought us all through great uncertainty into this new season with joy and expectation.
Christmas this year is again our point of orientation. We are at home with Jesus. I have found that our greatest gift each year comes with the knowledge that what’s under the tree is only a sign of God’s great love and provision through every new transition in our lives. We are God’s gift and we are meant to share it together.