Christmas Lesson 3: The Christmas Video

 

photo via Flickr 'Creative Commons'

One Friday night about 15 years ago, my friend subjected me to the torture of watching old family videos. Christmas was near, and the spirit caught her mom who gathered us all to the den where colored lights from the tree illuminated the pizza she set before us. She was in a very chipper mood and promised us all cookies for dessert if we watched a family video with her.

“I thought it would be fun to look back on Christmas past before Christmas future becomes our Christmas present.”

I stared at her and gave a weak smile. When she spoke, I had no trouble understanding why my friend Kristen was in the drama club.

Kristen’s dad sighed as he sat in his armchair and did his best to remove the slightly aggravated look from his face. He had no desire to watch an old home video, but the promise of pizza and cookies was too much for this large, Italian man to refuse.

Kristen rolled her eyes when he sat down. As is the case many times between teenaged daughters and their fathers, the two of them annoyed each other. Kristen’s sour attitude annoyed her father, and anything her father did annoyed Kristen.

I was beginning to wish I had said ‘no’ when Kristen asked me to spend the night.

Mrs. Carlucci pulled out a blue tub of VHS tapes, all adorned with perfect, white labels.

“Christmas 1988. That should be fun!”

“What would that make you, Kristen–about nine?” her dad asked.

“I guess” was Kristen’s elaborate reply.

“Michelle, I thought you’d like to see what your friend looked and acted like as a little girl. She was so cute with her brown curls!”

Yes, Mrs. Carlucci. How did you know this was EXACTLY how I wanted to spend my Friday night!

For the next 15 minutes, we all watched with our eyes glued to the television. Clearly, Mrs. Carlucci did not remember what was on this video before she put it in the VCR. For the next 15 minutes, we watched as Mrs. Carlucci frantically picked up every piece of wrapping paper that hit the floor. We watched ‘chipper’ Mrs. Carlucci make her way through Christmas with a scowl on her face.

“Mom, what was your deal? Kristen asked as her mom on the video waved her away with a Get out of the way, Kristen.

Mrs. Carlucci looked away with embarrassment. “I, I don’t know. I guess I was just having a bad day.”

“On Christmas?!”

But before Kristen could cause her mother any more grief, our eyes were once again drawn to the TV screen.

Come here sweetie, we heard the normally gruff man say to his daughter as he pulled her close. Merry Christmas!

I love you, Daddy! the little voice said back to the gruff man.

I scrunched up my face as I watched a scene that looked like it was from Little House on the Prairie. This father and daughter oozed so much love and sweetness I thought I might be sick.

Aww, come here Bailey! the man called to the family dog. He scratched her ears and laughed as she licked his face.

Kristen and I looked at each other in disbelief–all this love coming from the man who normally complained that he had a Cocker Spaniel instead of a German Shepherd.

“Who’s the bad guy now, huh?!” Mr. Carlucci shouted out with a laugh. “Here’s the proof! Here’s the proof!”

Kristen and I tried to roll our eyes, but we couldn’t help but laugh. We did have proof–her father was full of love while her mother was a psycho!

We watched more minutes of opening presents and hugs between father and daughter while Mrs. Carlucci would occasionally look up from stuffing crumpled wrapping paper in the tall, black trash bag. Her weak smiles were not convincing, a far contrast from the chipper woman baking cookies in the kitchen 20 minutes before.

“Well, Michelle didn’t come over today to watch old videos.” Mrs. Carlucci began to stand up and make her way to the TV.

“No, no, leave it on! I want to see more,” the gruff man called from the chair. “Heh, you see that, Kristen! Your mean, old dad–ha! Look at that!”

“Oh, please, John,” Mrs. Carlucci said as she turned off the TV.

“What? I thought it was nice–a father and daughter showing so much love on Christmas…and now we have the proof!” he laughed again as he got up to hug his wife.

She pushed him away and went to the kitchen.

“John, sometimes you are so annoying.”

Kristen and I laughed as Mr. Carlucci made his way to Kristen with a sly smile.

“We have proof!” he yelled as he pulled her in roughly to his chest.

Now at this point in the story you may think that you know the lesson–we create our own realities; or people are complex, dynamic creatures, not defined by the labels we give; or never show a family video that you haven’t first pre-screened. However, there is more….

Watching that video 15 years ago, I thought Mrs. Carlucci was psycho, but then I got married and had my own children. I experienced Christmas from the perspective of a mother, and, somehow, it didn’t have all the magic of Christmas as a child. Perhaps that’s because the mother creates most of the magic.

Perhaps Mrs. Carlucci was simply exhausted after preparing meals for three different family Christmas get-togethers back-to-back. Perhaps after each get-together, she came home late at night to a sink full of dishes and laundry that needed to be moved from the washer to the dryer. She just wanted to go to bed each night, but she needed to get ready for the next day. She needed to set out her casserole dishes and grate cheese and organize the presents for each respective family Christmas.

Perhaps Mrs. Carlucci was tired from baking cookies. In an attempt to spread the love of Christmas, she spread herself thin for an entire week baking cookies with her daughter–cookies for teachers, cookies for neighbors, cookies for the mailman, and, of course, cookies for Santa. Maybe, on that Christmas morning, she was just sick of cookies!

And let’s not forget the cleaning. Perhaps, Mrs. Carlucci, after that final family get-together, came home late but was not able to go to the bed that called her name. No, now she had to worry about her own family Christmas.

Perhaps she cleaned the dishes in the sink so that she could prepare the ingredients for her own family breakfast in the morning. Perhaps Mrs. Carlucci saw the mess on the den floor and didn’t want Santa to break his neck when he came down the chimney. Perhaps, like the ‘psycho’ she is, Mrs. Carlucci vacuumed at two in the morning so that the family would be sitting on a clean floor when they opened presents by the tree. Perhaps, when Mrs. Carlucci finally went to bed at three a.m., after cooking and vacuuming and positioning presents under the tree and setting out cookies for Santa, she was satisfied with how she had prepared this day for her family…satisfied and dead-tired.

Mrs. Carlucci may have felt like a zombie that morning, and, perhaps, she was a little annoyed when she saw crumpled piece after crumpled piece of wrapping paper hit the floor that she had just vacuumed four hours ago. Perhaps, Mrs. Carlucci saw the crumbs Santa left after he ate his cookies, and she decided that next year she was going to serve the slob cookies laced with arsenic.

Mrs. Carlucci didn’t need to see the presents Kristen opened–she knew what they were–she’s the one who bought the darned things. She loved her daughter–maybe she told her to get out of the way because her own head was spinning from sleep deprivation and didn’t need three Kristen heads confusing her even more. And, perhaps, when Mrs. Carlucci saw Mr. Carlucci sitting on that floor that she vacuumed, eating the cookies that she baked, laughing with his daughter over the presents she bought, and scratching the ears of the dog she consistently fed and bathed–perhaps she just wanted to slap him.

It’s okay, Mrs. Carlucci. I get it now.

I hope you all had a Merry Christmas! Thank you, Dad, for your ‘Christmas Lessons’ idea. I had some great ideas from others for more ‘Christmas Lessons’ about Santa, but due to the rush of Christmas and the inability to get out of bed after Christmas, not much has happened with my blog as of late! I look forward to getting back in a regular schedule…maybe next week.

If you missed it, here’s Christmas Lesson 1 and 2.


 

 

If I Were Mary

photo courtesy of lindsayshaver

The year I turned 15, Christmas took on a different meaning for me. I remember looking in the mirror and imagining myself pregnant. I rubbed my belly as I thought of how I would tell my family the news. I envisioned the walk downstairs to the kitchen and the kitchen table where I would ask my parents to sit, and I pictured the look on my dad’s face as I shared what I learned from the angel Gabriel:

Dad, Mom, I’m pregnant–but please don’t be mad. I’m still a virgin–I’m carrying God’s baby.

But of course they would be mad…and confused…and scared, much the same as I imagine Mary and her family were. Sometimes as I read the Bible, I forget that these people in the stories weren’t some special breed of holiness, able to accept anything God threw their way. They were real people, and when I was 15, I got that for a moment.

Mary had to be scared even though she trusted God completely. Her parents had to be confused, worried about public shame, and unsure as to how to treat their daughter. And Mary’s community–I’m sure they were abuzz with their own interpretation of how that baby bump got there.

When I was 26 at Christmastime, I imagined I was Mary again. I looked in the mirror and rubbed my belly, except this time my belly was round from the life that grew inside it. I was pregnant with my first child, a son, and I was full of joy and anticipation for his arrival that March.

I was also nervous. Would I instinctively know how to care for this child? Would I be a good mother? I thought about Mary, brimming with joy as she felt her baby kick inside her womb, brimming with questions and pressure as she realized her responsibility–she was the mother to God’s son. How does one prepare for that job?

Now I’m 32. I look in the mirror and find a couple laugh lines that I hadn’t previously noticed. I rub my belly that has never quite gone back to the way it was before three kids. Over the last six years, God has shown me glimpses of His goodness, His holiness, His provision, His plan; and I’ve grown as a result of struggles He has brought me through while holding my hand.

And I think of Mary, riding on a donkey as her stomach tightens and the pangs of labor prick her abdomen, while God is holding her hand. I wonder what runs through her mind as she realizes her baby is coming and she is still far off from a bed. I wonder what she thinks as each door Joseph  knocks on is opened to the news No room. I wonder if she feels His hand, this young girl who had not yet experienced the pain of sex for the first time, as she experiences the pain of childbirth on a bed of hay with cows and sheep as her audience instead of a midwife.

Because I know what I would think. If I were Mary on that donkey, I would worry. If I were Mary watching door upon door close with bad news, I would question. If I were Mary lying on that bed of hay, I would doubt. God, where are you? Why didn’t you plan for the birth of your Son?

Looking back over the last six years, I’ve seen how I react. I get confused when God’s plan takes me through hardship. I question what He is doing. And when doors close, I despise the words of those who reply,”Well, that must not be God’s will.”

But they are wrong as I have been wrong. For something to be God’s will doesn’t mean that all doors fly open. For something to be God’s will doesn’t mean that the end result is neat and clean. Sometimes God’s will is exactly what He told us it would be–He just used different means to that end than we would’ve chosen.

He held Mary’s hand as He closed the doors to those inns, yet she had heard Him correctly. She was in the center of His will. He hadn’t forgotten that she was giving birth to His Son–He chose that blanket of hay for his baby’s bed. He chose the most humiliating way for a woman to deliver a baby to deliver the most beautiful love story this world has ever heard.

God’s Son, Immanuel, God with us, God for us. God’s son, for the lowly shepherd, God’s son for the rich intellectual. God’s son, for the old prophet, God’s son for the smallest child. God’s son, accessible to all on that humble bed of hay.

I wonder if Mary felt God’s hand, if she were able to push aside the doubt that I would’ve allowed to creep in and fester in my mind. I wonder if Mary were able to trust in the midst of agonizing pain and closed doors.

If I were Mary, I’m not sure that I would’ve. It is only now, at 32, that I’m beginning to grasp that the truths in these crazy Bible stories are also true for my crazy life. When I thought I heard God clearly only to have door upon door close, I may have been right.

I just hadn’t realized that God is preparing my own bed of hay.

Merry Christmas to you and your family. May you feel God’s hand as He leads you this coming year.

 

Christmas Lessons 2: The Nativity

I sighed as I took the nativity out of the box. A gift from my mother-in-law, the olive wood figurines from Jerusalem stood beautifully in their simplicity. I wanted to do the scene justice–display it in a setting of prominence, center-stage in our family room–yet I wanted to enjoy this nativity for more than one Christmas.

For the same reason the breakable nativity from my mother sets atop the T.V. cabinet, this nativity quietly hangs out on our electric piano: I fear my children.

I fear the two-year-old who ate all the candy out of the kids’ advent calendars by December 10th.

I fear the four-year-old who lost her one new pair of school shoes (how does one lose the shoes that one was wearing?)

I fear the five-year-old who discovered the razor I use on my legs can also shave off hair from his sister’s head.

I don’t want baby Jesus to go missing. I don’t want the shepherd to lose his staff. I don’t want Mary to break her face. And I don’t want the sheep to become part of a wild animal safari in the playroom.

I want them to remain sacred objects of our faith, a reminder of the beautiful Christmas story.

“She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them”

The story of the king sent to reign over heaven and earth, the king who entered this world not on a golden chariot but instead through the blood, sweat, and tears of a young girl. The king for whom there was no room but instead a bed shared amidst foul-smelling animals and dust and hay.

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord”

The story of the God who chose to reveal himself first to a group of shepherds, the young and the elderly, those not valued by society but who caused disdain with the stench of sheep they carried. These were the first to meet the Savior of the World.

13 ‘Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace on whom his favor rests’

The story of a baby who made the angels sing. This baby, the Son of the holy God who loves His children so much that He sent His Son to bring us peace.

As my children retell this story with shining eyes anticipating Christ’s birthday, I see the nativity, no longer mere objects on my piano destined to be broken or misplaced at their hands. These objects that they caress with their fingers, the star that they turn as they sing of that silent night, holy night are living as the story takes root in their hearts.

And that story can’t break.

Linking up with Mama Kat in response to her prompt to describe my nativity scene. Come back tomorrow for another Christmas lesson, this time inspired by some of the Santa stories left by you!

*For the complete Christmas story, read Luke 2.



 


A Message in a Shoebox

photo courtesy of 'Operation Christmas Child'

God shows His love and kindness in many ways. For me, He showed it in a shoebox’s destination….

Around four years ago, I sat on the back row at church and listened to the woman on the screen rattle off statistics that I have never been able to forget. At that time, our church was connected to the orphanage in the Ukraine that this woman represented. I remember hearing her describe girls lured into prostitution after leaving most orphanages, and the majority of boys of choosing a life of crime. The number that hit me the hardest, however, was the number of young men who chose to live no life at all.

I can’t remember if I was pregnant with my second child or if she had just been born, but I know that the thought of adopting a child had not yet entered my mind given my own circumstances. But those statistics, oh, how they changed me forever. I sat in church that day with tears in my eyes. How horrible were those orphanages that these children thought they were worthless? How horrible were their prospects that these young men thought they had no hope at all? The thought of so many children taking their own lives rather than live in the world was incomprehensible to me.

Around two years later, I sat in the stands of the Gwinnett Arena and listened to the testimony of Christian after Christian who said they believed the call in James to care for orphans and widows was not merely a suggestion. They believed that God really meant we should give homes to these orphans, and they shared their stories of how they adopted children into their families.

My husband and I had never discussed adoption before, and I wasn’t sure that he would be receptive to the idea, but God had stirred some embers in my heart. I thought of those young boys in the Ukraine, and I felt I knew God’s plan for us.

But time passed. Life with my own three kids was crazy enough. Managing our finances was challenging as it was–saving tens of thousands of dollars for adoption seemed unreasonable. And as time went on, even though I truly felt God had spoken to me two years prior in that arena, I began to doubt what I heard. I still had the desire to adopt, but I also knew now was not the time to bring another child into our home. In fact, sometimes I didn’t know if there’d ever be the time to bring another child into our home, and, at times, I was okay with that idea.

My mind didn’t do well with this ambiguity. I’m the girl with the five-year and ten-year plans, and I needed to know if adoption was part of those plans. I needed to know how to plan for those plans. The last few months, however, I had the sense that I needed to stop planning all-together. The details in my life didn’t match up with the details of adoption.

And I felt crushed. Because as life often works, during this time of my life, a time when bringing another child into our home makes no sense, my desire to have another child is burning within me.

I told God I trusted Him. Maybe I hadn’t heard correctly a couple years ago. Maybe God does want me to have a heart for orphans, but maybe my role isn’t to be a mother to orphans. I would trust Him, though, trust that He would reveal His will to me–perhaps not today but when I needed to know.

In November, my son and I packed a box for his school’s Operation Christmas Child shoebox drive, and I printed out a label with a barcode so we could track it’s destination. Two days ago, I received an e-mail from Samaritan’s Purse:

Merry Christmas from Samaritan’s Purse! Thank you for participating in Operation Christmas Child and for choosing to Follow Your Box.

Your gift box(es) went to Ukraine. For photos, stories, and other information about Operation Christmas Child in this country, click here.”

I gasped when I saw the country. The Ukraine, the one place that is always in my heart, and there, a little boy would hold a shoebox full of toys and markers and toothpaste and know that he is loved.

And as I read that e-mail, I knew that I am loved. I know this post seems to be about adoption, but, actually, it’s about God’s love for me. When I read that e-mail, I knew God was speaking to me. I knew that He was telling me that He heard and hears the desires of my heart, and, as much as I care about those little boys in the Ukraine, He cares even more. He will make clear His Will to me, whether or not adoption is part of it.

All I could do was close my eyes and say I trust, Lord. How could I not trust the God of the universe who carried a simple shoebox to a place where He could speak to both the recipient and the sender?

Some might say that our shoebox landing in the Ukraine was a coincidence–it had to go somewhere–but I believe God cares enough about me to get involved in the details of life. Like a perfect Father, He knows the time to step back and let me learn and grow, but He also knows those times when I need to hear from Him.

He loves me enough to speak to me through an e-mail.

And He loves you that much, too.

 

Linking up with Michelle and Jen. When was a time that you knew God was speaking to you? How did He do it? And don’t forget to tune in this week to read more Christmas lessons. Thank you to those who have e-mailed/commented with suggestions!

Christmas Lessons: 1

 

photo by Vanessa Pike-Russell

The Christmas holidays had just concluded, and my dad and I made a pit-stop at the gymnastics center where I would spend most of my childhood. He needed to work out some details for the upcoming meet, and I hung out in the lobby for those few minutes. Had I known that my world would change that quickly, I would’ve stayed in the car.

My gymnastics coach happened to see me and stopped by to say ‘hello’ before heading down to teach a class.

“How do you like your new beam?” she asked.

I immediately was taken aback. I did, in fact, get a beam for Christmas. It was blue and sat flat on the floor and was made out of some stiff foam-like material. The beam wasn’t very heavy and would move if I jumped on it. Honestly, it’s a wonder that I didn’t break my ankle, but, nevertheless, that beam was one of the best presents I ever received. From Santa.

How did you know I got a beam?”

The wheels in my head began spinning, but clearly, her wheels were not keeping up with mine.

“I saw your dad pick it up,” she answered matter-of-factly.

The wheels were now grinding together, producing a thick fog of smoke in my brain.

My dad? How was that possible? Santa brought that gift.

And then, as any child who wants to believe would do, I began to concoct the recipe for how my coach would’ve seen my dad purchasing this gift when, in fact, it was from Santa. It was easy–Santa is magical, so he simply turned himself into the likeness of my dad and purchased the beam. He didn’t have one in his workshop because…well…it doesn’t matter. He knew I liked the one at my gym, and it was just easier to fly down from the North Pole, turn himself into my dad, and purchase it then try to have his elves recreate it in the workshop.

Yeah, that was it.

And even though I forced myself to believe for another year, that day marked the day when a little of the Christmas magic died in my heart.

Christmas Lesson 1: Let the child tell you what he or she received for Christmas, not the other way around. You have no idea what spiral of doubt and confusion you may otherwise create.

Was Santa ever spoiled for you? What happened?

I had a fun idea this morning–or fun to me–and wanted to pass it along. If you will send me a Christmas lesson in the comments or in an e-mail, I will try to recreate a short story around it. Or if you prefer, you can write a story and provide the link in the comment box of any of the Christmas Lessons I write! If I don’t get any responses, I’ll know you all think this idea stinks.

Christmas Definitions

 

Photo by tmorkemo via Flickr 'Creative Commons'

Since I was small, I remember hearing the ‘Keep Christ in Christmas’ motto for the holidays. I would nod my head in assent whenever the challenge was brought to me, and I continued the crusade of saying ‘Merry Christmas’ instead of ‘Happy Holidays’ when I was shopping at a retail store.

Now that I’m older, I’ve noticed not much has changed. My Facebook newsfeed is filled with reminders to keep Christ in Christmas, but this year I had to ask what does that actually mean? Christmas changed for me when I had to explain the meaning to my children, and during the last year, especially, I struggled through my own definition of keeping Christ in a holiday that, at times, feels largely secular.

So today I want to hear from you. What does keeping Christ in Christmas actually mean?

Linking up with Jen today.

 

What Did You Just Say?!

My husband, Matt, and I have been blessed with kids who can communicate well. Well, blessed and cursed–smart kids who have an answer for everything can be very trying. Nonetheless, we’ve never had to mess with ‘baby talk,’ and we rarely witnessed the ‘terrible twos’ temper tantrums (how’s that for alliteration?) simply because our kids couldn’t communicate their frustrations. Oh, they know how to communicate their frustrations quite well!

As a result of our little blessings, I would venture to say that we tend to forget their ages when we are having a conversation. The other night, Matt was scolding our five-year-old son Caleb for dumping out the contents of his piggy bank, yet, again instead of getting ready for bed, but he may have been looking at Caleb as a member of his sales team instead of a little kid:

“Put [your piggy bank] away, or I am going to confiscate it.”

“I don’t know what that word means.”

“It means I am going to take it away.”

“WHY WOULD YOU USE THAT WORD?!  You can just say I’m going to take it away!”

And as any supportive wife would do, I laughed downstairs for about five minutes. Then I thought about the verse in the Bible that says, “4 Fathers,[b] do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). I’m not sure whether or not teaching Caleb to clean up the money all over his bed counts as training of the Lord, but I’m fairly certain he was exasperated.

I thought for a minute how I might exasperate my children–perhaps, sometimes my expectations are a little high or I get frustrated before really understanding why they tried to recreate the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel on the playroom wall–but then my mind traveled back to the current moment.

And, Matt, that exasperating was all on you, buddy.

Linking up with Mama Kat for her Writer’s Workshop. How do you exasperate your children (or spouse or mother, etc)?