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Evening Edition - December 28

December 28, 2019

This time of year, one of the many great holiday songs we always hear is the late, great Glenn Campbell’s “Christmas Is For Children.” That sentiment was also on the minds of many of my radio listeners whose most treasured memories of Christmas were tied to childhood – either their kids’ childhoods or their own.

Some were of the “Kids Say The Darnedest Things” variety.  For instance, Joe from Georgia recalled when his son was 7, their church had a pancake breakfast with a “Happy Birthday Jesus” cake for the kids, and the Lord’s Supper for adults during the Christmas Eve service.  His son tugged his sleeve and asked, “Dad, why am I allowed to eat the Lord’s Breakfast but not His supper?” 

An eternal theological question, my son!

There's something about the excitement of Christmas that makes children even more hilariously discombobulated.  Cleve from New Mexico wrote, "At our house, we always opened our presents on Christmas morning. I remember the first year my daughters were really, really, really looking forward to Christmas.  On Christmas Eve morning, they jumped out of bed, ran into the kitchen, and hollered, 'Today's the night we get up in the morning!!'"  Well, they were right: it was! 

Dolores from Texas recalled that during the Depression, her parents gave her and her sister Betsy Wetsy dolls, and made a little suitcase and a whole wardrobe for them.  Dolores said it was the “best Christmas ever!”  The girls were so excited, they didn’t even realize until years later that those were actually their old dolls, all cleaned up.  The moral: To a child, a gift doesn’t have to be new…just new to THEM.   

Claudine from North Dakota shared this:

“When my kids were little, the church was getting together some toys, gifts and food items for a poor family who had just moved to our area at Christmas time.  While looking in the pantry to see what we might have extras of, I asked my children what they would like to give. My daughter - then six years old - went to her room and brought down her Barbie doll complete with Barbie outfits, that she loved to play with. It was her only one.  When I said, ‘Oh, honey, you don't have to give your favorite doll’, she said to me, ‘Mommy, if you just give what you don't want, it's not really giving, is it?’” 

When you “give till it hurts,” as some people put it, it can actually feel pretty good. Thank you, Claudine, for reminding us that sometimes, parents can learn from children.

----------------------

BettyJean from California had a favorite childhood Christmas memory that reminds us not to look a gift horse in the mouth.  She wrote:

"I was born in 1928 in a small town in Montana. My mother died in 1929... (and) we were very poor...One Christmas my friend, Rex, whose parents had a restaurant in town, gave me a beautifully wrapped present. I was SOOOO EXCITED! Christmas Eve, my brother and I unwrapped our two presents. My brother watched me unwrap mine: a box of candy.  And I can still hear him, 70 years later...yelling out, "DAAAAAD! THERE'S A PIECE GONE!!!!!"

I guess that proves little boys haven't really changed much in all these years! 

 -----------------------

Of course, Christmas is also a time when many of us former children experience the sadness of memories of parents who are no longer with us. I received many stories from people who were rocked by a flood of emotions at something as simple as coming across an old family decoration that their dad made, or the smell of a favorite family dish that mama used to cook. You never know what unlikely things might trigger overwhelming emotions. 

For example, Linda from Texas recalled that her grandfather’s last Christmas gift to her dad just before he died was a shirt.  He never wore that shirt.  But he kept it hanging in his closet for the rest of his life, carefully preserved as a reminder of his dad.    

Ellen from Oregon would understand that feeling.  Her mother died of a brain tumor that had scrambled her thinking and sometimes made her a little exasperating.  Just before Christmas, she made a big production of being driven to the post office to buy Christmas ornament postage stamps.  She debated at great length before settling on the design, which she insisted on calling the “Jingle Bell stamps.”  The postal clerk put three sheets of stamps in an onionskin envelope for her.  Her mom proudly took them home, wrote “Christmas stamps” on the envelope, and displayed them on the windowsill for all to see.  It seemed a little silly to Ellen at the time.

One month later, as she and her sisters were cleaning out their late mother’s house, Ellen came across her mom’s beloved Jingle Bells stamps in the onionskin envelope with her handwriting on it.  She wrote, “I took them into the bathroom and cried.”  She took the envelope with the remaining stamps home with her.  Long afterward, when her husband needed a stamp, she opened the stamp drawer, saw them again, and cried again. 

She began calling them the “Jingle Bell stamps,” too.  There are only three stamps left, and there always will be. Ellen said she could never use them.  She wrote:

“It’s almost as if when those stamps are gone, one more thread will be cut…But somehow I know I will never give up that little onion skin envelope. Whenever I buy stamps, it will always be in sheets, and I will always tuck them into that little onion skin envelope.” 

Thank you for sharing that, Ellen.  And please know that you are not alone.  Many of us treasure things that might seem silly to others, but they hold value beyond gold to us.  There’s no reason to be embarrassed about having a reminder of your mom in the stamp drawer.  But it’s even better to know that we’ll always have memories of our loved ones who’ve left us tucked safely away in our hearts. 

 

* * * * *

 

Christmas is a time for prayers and miracles, and one often follows the other.  Rosalin from Virginia shared a story that proves God sometimes shows a very personal interest in us, if we’ll just ask Him into our lives.  She wrote:

"Years ago, when our children were younger, we ran into hard times. It was a Wednesday morning, and Christmas was on Saturday.  We had no money for Christmas gifts and no savings in the bank. My husband was home without work as a carpenter.  He suggested we join hands and pray, which we did.

Three hours later, friends of ours called from New York to tell us that they'd received a large Christmas bonus from work, and God put our family on their hearts. They told us they'd sent us $350 through Western Union...not knowing of our situation. We picked up the check and went Christmas shopping.  It was a GREAT lesson my children will NEVER forget!" 

Thank you, Rosalin.  That's a great story that none of us will ever forget! 

 

* * * * *

 

Dorothy from North Carolina wrote:

“It's been a few years ago now, that through an unusual set of circumstances I met a dear Christian lady named Hilda N-----.  Hilda had endured many hardships in life…Now, in her later years… she lived in abject poverty with…crippling arthritis.  It was Christmas and I had a gift for Hilda. Mark and I were dating at the time and I asked him to go with me to Hilda's humble home…  But it wasn't my gift that I've remembered all these years...it was HER gift, given liberally out of her poverty, that I will never forget.

She and I had exchanged gifts, her gift to me a small ceramic bell with a cross at the top from the dollar store. And then came the moment I cherish yet today. She looked at Mark apologetically and reached down into the cushion of the chair…fumbling until she finally retrieved a small, zippered change purse. Her gnarled, misshapen fingers (terribly twisted from the arthritis) moving slowly and with painful effort, she managed to open the purse… Finally, she turned to Mark and, pulling out a folded, crumpled $1.00 bill, she held it out to him.

Her soft, quiet voice and loving manner gave eloquence to the gesture. ‘I didn't know YOU were coming so I didn't have a gift for you.  Here’, she handed him the dollar bill, ‘Merry Christmas.’

Tears sprang to my eyes as I knew what a sacrifice was represented in the giving of the dollar bill. Her heart of love and her desire to share the little she had gave her gift more meaning than a purse full of gold.” 

Thank you, Dorothy, and Hilda, for reminding us that Christmas isn’t about what we get, it’s about what we give.  

 

 

* * * * *

 

 

 

A story for us all to remember

December 27, 2019

Isaiah 11:6 tells us that "a little child shall lead them."  That's what the Christmas story is all about.  And the miraculous connection between children and Christmas goes far beyond toys and Santa.  Jennifer from Arizona wrote:

"When my son was about 2-1/2, I noticed he took a pair of his flip-flop shoes and placed them under the Christmas tree. I asked him why. (He said,) "They are for little Jesus. He doesn't have any shoes, and I am giving Him my shoes."   I asked him who 'little Jesus' was, and he told me, 'God's son.' 

Now, mind you, we hadn't, at that point, taken him to church yet.  I had no idea where he got this story...It just goes to show that the little ones have more vision and hope than most adults when it comes to Christmas."

You're right, Jennifer.  And I have another miraculous Christmas story to prove it.  Gerald from Alabama wrote:

"My Dad was stationed at England Air Force Base, Louisiana, in 1962.  In mid-November, he got orders to go to Spain for 90 days. I was 8 at the time. My mom and I went to the base to watch them take off in cargo planes. She said "I wish he didn't have to be gone during Christmas." 

Some of the planes had already taken off, and there were about three or four waiting to leave.  According to my mom, I said, "They are not going to go," and I pointed to one of the planes that hadn't taken off and said "Daddy is in that plane," as it began to head to the end of the runway. I said, "It is going to stop at the end of the runway, turn around and come back and park right there" as I pointed to a place.

The plane stayed at the end of the runway about 10 minutes, turned and came back and parked at the place I pointed out. My mom got chill bumps all over her when this happened and she was really surprised when the Airmen started to get off, and there was my Daddy. The other planes started to land...The orders had been cancelled.

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving and Christmas that year...I remember some of what I said and especially the part about the plane turning around and coming back to park. But my mother was in awe that everything I said actually happened. This is the most memorable Christmas ever in my lifetime." 

I'm not surprised, Gerald.  That is definitely a story for us all to remember! 

The holidays we remember

December 27, 2019

All the emphasis on shopping and consumerism that’s grown up around Christmas tends to remind those of us who grew up poor that we didn't feel deprived because, as kids (not being “lucky” enough to have social media to tell us), we didn't realize we were poor. 

Ginny from Alabama had the perfect story to illustrate that.  She wrote:

"I am 83-years-old now, but I remember this like it was yesterday. It was during the Depression...My daddy had gotten a job with the CCC (the Civilian Conservation Corps.)  We lived in two rooms we rented in a big old house and shared the bathroom with the family we rented from. One room served as kitchen and my parents' bedroom, and the other was the living room, and guess where I slept.

Our Christmas tree was a holly tree my daddy had cut in the woods where he was working...I was probably four or five. I was sitting in my mama's lap while she rocked me in front of the fireplace. She was crying. I remember asking her why she was crying, and she said 'because we couldn't get you much for Christmas.' 

I can remember being confused by what she said because I had gotten the clay modeling set I wanted. My aunt had sent a doll, but...the doll to me was extra.  Since I got the clay modeling set, that seemed plenty...

Several years later, when things got easier, the place under the Christmas tree was filled.  But the Christmas I remember the most was that one Christmas when I got the clay modeling set."  

Thank you, Ginny, for that important reminder that the holidays we remember best aren't necessarily the ones when we got the most lavish gifts but the ones where we felt the most love. 

 

Evening Edition - December 27

December 27, 2019

Jim in Alabama shared a story that reminded us of how the Christmas season brings everyone together.  During his time in the military back in 1973, Jim was stationed near Nuremberg, Germany.  He wrote:

“Being born and reared in the South, I had never met people from Puerto Rico.  But we had four guys from Puerto Rico and Queens, New York.  Jose Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad” would play on Armed Forces Radio and these guys made us all start to dance and sing along.  They sure knew how to have a good time.  They helped us all not be so homesick.” 

Thank you for that great memory, Jim.  I can’t think of anything more American than guys from Alabama, New York and Puerto Rico all joining the US Army and celebrating Christmas in Germany listening to Jose Feliciano sing “Feliz Navidad!” 

 -------------------------------------

Next, what might be a close encounter with the real Santa Claus.  Margaret from Washington wrote that her 60-year-old sister Liz lived in an adult home.  She had cerebral palsy and autism, the mental capacity of a six-year-old, constant pain from two broken hips and her spine, and limited speech due to her medication.  She didn’t have much joy in her life, but she loved Christmas and still had an unwavering belief in Santa Claus. 

Liz had a great caregiver named Crissie who told Margaret that Liz and her deaf housemate Alice saved up $20 from their meager support checks, the price of a photo with Santa at the mall.  So Crissie agreed to take them. 

After waiting an hour in line, they finally got to the front to discover the photo price was $23.  The “elves” wouldn’t budge on the price. Crissie called the home but was told she wasn’t allowed to spend her own money on residents.  So Crissie reluctantly signed the news to Alice and began pushing Liz’s wheelchair away.  Margaret said her sister began throwing a fit as only she could, and Crissie started pushing as fast as possible, with Alice trotting behind and Liz’s screams echoing through the mall.   

As they reached their car, they heard someone shout, “Liz, wait!”  They turned around, and there was Santa, out of breath.  He’d been running after them. Liz stopped screaming immediately.  Santa gave them all candy canes and said he’d love to pose for a photo with them, no charge.  Santa hugged Liz and Alice, and said, “HO! HO! HO! Merry Christmas!” as Crissie took a cell phone photo.

Now, here’s where the story takes a magical turn.  The photo turned out great.  You could even tell that Santa’s long white beard was real.  Margaret was so touched by his kindness that she went to the mall with a thank-you card and the photo, so they could identify the mall Santa who performed that special act of kindness. 

She showed the photo to the mall manager’s secretary, who took it back into the office.  Margaret wrote:

“The manager came out and told me she thought it was a great photo…but that was NOT their Santa.”

They had no idea who that kind, jolly man in the beard and red suit who magically appeared out of nowhere in their hour of need could have been.  I’ll leave it to you to decide. 

 

* * * * *

Isaiah 11:6 tells us that "a little child shall lead them."  That's what the Christmas story is all about.  And the miraculous connection between children and Christmas goes far beyond toys and Santa.  Jennifer from Arizona wrote:

"When my son was about 2-1/2, I noticed he took a pair of his flip-flop shoes and placed them under the Christmas tree. I asked him why. (He said,) "They are for little Jesus. He doesn't have any shoes, and I am giving Him my shoes."   I asked him who 'little Jesus' was, and he told me, 'God's son.' 

Now, mind you, we hadn't, at that point, taken him to church yet.  I had no idea where he got this story...It just goes to show that the little ones have more vision and hope than most adults when it comes to Christmas."

You're right, Jennifer.  And I have another miraculous Christmas story to prove it.  Gerald from Alabama wrote:

"My Dad was stationed at England Air Force Base, Louisiana, in 1962.  In mid-November, he got orders to go to Spain for 90 days. I was 8 at the time. My mom and I went to the base to watch them take off in cargo planes. She said "I wish he didn't have to be gone during Christmas." 

Some of the planes had already taken off, and there were about three or four waiting to leave.  According to my mom, I said, "They are not going to go," and I pointed to one of the planes that hadn't taken off and said "Daddy is in that plane," as it began to head to the end of the runway. I said, "It is going to stop at the end of the runway, turn around and come back and park right there" as I pointed to a place.

The plane stayed at the end of the runway about 10 minutes, turned and came back and parked at the place I pointed out. My mom got chill bumps all over her when this happened and she was really surprised when the Airmen started to get off, and there was my Daddy. The other planes started to land...The orders had been cancelled.

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving and Christmas that year...I remember some of what I said and especially the part about the plane turning around and coming back to park. But my mother was in awe that everything I said actually happened. This is the most memorable Christmas ever in my lifetime." 

I'm not surprised, Gerald.  That is definitely a story for us all to remember! 

 

* * * * *

 

Joe from Oklahoma shared a special Christmas memory that sounds like something the dad in “A Christmas Story” might have pulled.  Joe still vividly recalled when he was seven, and he and his two siblings rushed downstairs expecting to find stockings and gifts.  Instead, they found mayhem. A toppled glass of milk, chairs thrown around, and the tree on its side. 

They rushed to wake their parents, who came downstairs with crafty smiles.  Joe’s dad was a police officer.  He told them Santa had spilled the milk, refused to clean up after himself, and was rude to him.  This had sparked a tussle that spilled out into the back yard.  Then he pointed out a pile of dirt in the back yard the size of a fresh grave.  Joe assured the kids that Santa escaped alive…but he said, “Rudolph will never (relieve himself) on our roof again.” 

Well, I must admit, that’s one original way to create a lifelong Christmas memory for your kids! Or maybe just to scar them for life.  Either way, it was unforgettable!

-------------------------------

Annette from Texas also shared a funny Christmas memory that’s taken on serious meaning over the years. 

Around the time she and her twin sister were teenagers in Pascagoula, Mississippi, in the late ‘50s, a tradition started in their small Baptist church to create a living Nativity scene.  Members would dress up as all the characters of the Nativity, so that cars could drive by in reverence and awe and see the Christmas story in 3D.  It took months of work, part of which was coaching teenagers on how to “be still and know God.” 

However, they never could teach the live animals to be still and know God, so it could be pretty nerve-wracking, trying to stand motionless next to a live camel or goat with some less-than-reverent ideas of its own. 

Luckily, Annette was given a very special role that didn’t require any animal wrangling, but it had its unique hazards.  She wrote:

“I was the angel on high – 20 feet high to be exact…When the angel climbed rickety, dark stairs at the back of the makeshift manger stall, the act itself took such fortitude and perseverance that the spotlight on her was snuffed every 15 minutes and a new angel would appear as fast as she could safely make that climb.

I prayed for all I was worth: not to fall, not to faint, and not to freeze to death…a few blocks from the Gulf, we never knew if we would have freezing cold or temps so hot at Christmas we could have worn bikinis under our angel attire – IF that would not have been a sin…But I digress. We were told that angels could not move a muscle. Even if the nose itched (or some other place), or if we felt a sneeze coming on, we HAD to remain perfectly still...Being 20 feet off the ground with arms outstretched for 15 minutes and a thin wooden support-cross hidden behind me in my white robe, I couldn't help but know—or pray for—God's presence.”

Annette said she didn’t remember having any epiphanies back then.  But time and again over the years, when she needed guidance or to trust that things would work out, or to know that stillness can bring a peace that passes all understanding, she’s thought back to what she learned from her scary job, dangling over the Nativity Scene.  As she put it:

“God reveals Himself to us in His son through His Holy Spirit.  And I don’t need angel wings or a halo to fly to His presence.  Just that hidden cross of support.”

 

* * * * *

 

All the emphasis on shopping and consumerism that’s grown up around Christmas tends to remind those of us who grew up poor that we didn't feel deprived because, as kids (not being “lucky” enough to have social media to tell us), we didn't realize we were poor. 

Ginny from Alabama had the perfect story to illustrate that.  She wrote:

"I am 83-years-old now, but I remember this like it was yesterday. It was during the Depression...My daddy had gotten a job with the CCC (the Civilian Conservation Corps.)  We lived in two rooms we rented in a big old house and shared the bathroom with the family we rented from. One room served as kitchen and my parents' bedroom, and the other was the living room, and guess where I slept.

Our Christmas tree was a holly tree my daddy had cut in the woods where he was working...I was probably four or five. I was sitting in my mama's lap while she rocked me in front of the fireplace. She was crying. I remember asking her why she was crying, and she said 'because we couldn't get you much for Christmas.' 

I can remember being confused by what she said because I had gotten the clay modeling set I wanted. My aunt had sent a doll, but...the doll to me was extra.  Since I got the clay modeling set, that seemed plenty...

Several years later, when things got easier, the place under the Christmas tree was filled.  But the Christmas I remember the most was that one Christmas when I got the clay modeling set."  

Thank you, Ginny, for that important reminder that the holidays we remember best aren't necessarily the ones when we got the most lavish gifts but the ones where we felt the most love. 

Jim in Alabama shared a story that reminded us of how the Christmas season brings everyone together.  During his time in the military back in 1973, Jim was stationed near Nuremberg, Germany.  He wrote:

“Being born and reared in the South, I had never met people from Puerto Rico.  But we had four guys from Puerto Rico and Queens, New York.  Jose Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad” would play on Armed Forces Radio and these guys made us all start to dance and sing along.  They sure knew how to have a good time.  They helped us all not be so homesick.” 

Thank you for that great memory, Jim.  I can’t think of anything more American than guys from Alabama, New York and Puerto Rico all joining the US Army and celebrating Christmas in Germany listening to Jose Feliciano sing “Feliz Navidad!” 

 -----------------

Next, what might be a close encounter with the real Santa Claus.  Margaret from Washington wrote that her 60-year-old sister Liz lived in an adult home.  She had cerebral palsy and autism, the mental capacity of a six-year-old, constant pain from two broken hips and her spine, and limited speech due to her medication.  She didn’t have much joy in her life, but she loved Christmas and still had an unwavering belief in Santa Claus. 

Liz had a great caregiver named Crissie who told Margaret that Liz and her deaf housemate Alice saved up $20 from their meager support checks, the price of a photo with Santa at the mall.  So Crissie agreed to take them. 

After waiting an hour in line, they finally got to the front to discover the photo price was $23.  The “elves” wouldn’t budge on the price. Crissie called the home but was told she wasn’t allowed to spend her own money on residents.  So Crissie reluctantly signed the news to Alice and began pushing Liz’s wheelchair away.  Margaret said her sister began throwing a fit as only she could, and Crissie started pushing as fast as possible, with Alice trotting behind and Liz’s screams echoing through the mall.   

As they reached their car, they heard someone shout, “Liz, wait!”  They turned around, and there was Santa, out of breath.  He’d been running after them. Liz stopped screaming immediately.  Santa gave them all candy canes and said he’d love to pose for a photo with them, no charge.  Santa hugged Liz and Alice, and said, “HO! HO! HO! Merry Christmas!” as Crissie took a cell phone photo.

Now, here’s where the story takes a magical turn.  The photo turned out great.  You could even tell that Santa’s long white beard was real.  Margaret was so touched by his kindness that she went to the mall with a thank-you card and the photo, so they could identify the mall Santa who performed that special act of kindness. 

She showed the photo to the mall manager’s secretary, who took it back into the office.  Margaret wrote:

“The manager came out and told me she thought it was a great photo…but that was NOT their Santa.”

They had no idea who that kind, jolly man in the beard and red suit who magically appeared out of nowhere in their hour of need could have been.  I’ll leave it to you to decide. 

Christmas memories

December 27, 2019

Joe from Oklahoma shared a special Christmas memory that sounds like something the dad in “A Christmas Story” might have pulled.  Joe still vividly recalled when he was seven, and he and his two siblings rushed downstairs expecting to find stockings and gifts.  Instead, they found mayhem. A toppled glass of milk, chairs thrown around, and the tree on its side. 

They rushed to wake their parents, who came downstairs with crafty smiles.  Joe’s dad was a police officer.  He told them Santa had spilled the milk, refused to clean up after himself, and was rude to him.  This had sparked a tussle that spilled out into the back yard.  Then he pointed out a pile of dirt in the back yard the size of a fresh grave.  Joe assured the kids that Santa escaped alive…but he said, “Rudolph will never (relieve himself) on our roof again.” 

Well, I must admit, that’s one original way to create a lifelong Christmas memory for your kids! Or maybe just to scar them for life.  Either way, it was unforgettable!

--------------------

Annette from Texas also shared a funny Christmas memory that’s taken on serious meaning over the years. 

Around the time she and her twin sister were teenagers in Pascagoula, Mississippi, in the late ‘50s, a tradition started in their small Baptist church to create a living Nativity scene.  Members would dress up as all the characters of the Nativity, so that cars could drive by in reverence and awe and see the Christmas story in 3D.  It took months of work, part of which was coaching teenagers on how to “be still and know God.” 

However, they never could teach the live animals to be still and know God, so it could be pretty nerve-wracking, trying to stand motionless next to a live camel or goat with some less-than-reverent ideas of its own. 

Luckily, Annette was given a very special role that didn’t require any animal wrangling, but it had its unique hazards.  She wrote:

“I was the angel on high – 20 feet high to be exact…When the angel climbed rickety, dark stairs at the back of the makeshift manger stall, the act itself took such fortitude and perseverance that the spotlight on her was snuffed every 15 minutes and a new angel would appear as fast as she could safely make that climb.

I prayed for all I was worth: not to fall, not to faint, and not to freeze to death…a few blocks from the Gulf, we never knew if we would have freezing cold or temps so hot at Christmas we could have worn bikinis under our angel attire – IF that would not have been a sin…But I digress. We were told that angels could not move a muscle. Even if the nose itched (or some other place), or if we felt a sneeze coming on, we HAD to remain perfectly still...Being 20 feet off the ground with arms outstretched for 15 minutes and a thin wooden support-cross hidden behind me in my white robe, I couldn't help but know—or pray for—God's presence.”

Annette said she didn’t remember having any epiphanies back then.  But time and again over the years, when she needed guidance or to trust that things would work out, or to know that stillness can bring a peace that passes all understanding, she’s thought back to what she learned from her scary job, dangling over the Nativity Scene.  As she put it:

“God reveals Himself to us in His son through His Holy Spirit.  And I don’t need angel wings or a halo to fly to His presence.  Just that hidden cross of support.”

On Christmas, we celebrate the birth of the One who told us, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”  But on holidays like this that emphasize parties and socializing, many people feel lonely or abandoned.  They may not realize how many people around them really do care about them. 

Linda from North Carolina wrote:

 "Several years ago, we had a family up the hill who were having a very rough time. They had broken glass in their windows, no heat and no prospects for a nice Christmas.

We got neighbors together and one day when they were gone, the men went up and put in new glass, bought heaters and warmed up their trailer and went to get them a Christmas tree. The ladies and kids made ornaments, went to stores and got donations of toys and clothing, food and electric blankets. We all met at the trailer, cooked, decorated, put up the tree, wrapped packages, and made beds with the new blankets then went to our home to wait for them to return.

A while later, the family came running down the hill in the snow and flew into our house, trying to tell us through tears what someone had done.  The mother couldn't believe that so many people cared about them. She didn't realize it, but being able to do that for them made Christmas very special for all of us.”

Thank you, Linda, for that perfect story to remind us that the gifts that give us the most satisfaction aren’t those we get, but the ones we give to others.

 

* * * * *

 

When you’re making out the guest list for your holiday family get-togethers, please don’t forget that “family” doesn’t just mean blood relations, as Mario from Indiana reminded us:

"I grew up in Mexico in an orphanage with 40 brothers and sisters. My mom and dad, as we called them, were missionaries for 28 years.  When we celebrated Christmas we had toys and clothing, but the best gift was that mom cooked breakfast for each child according to what we wanted to eat on Christmas day.

When I asked mom why she did that, she said, "This is my gift for you guys.... Something I can do with my own hands for you."  I love my mom and dad for giving us love when our real parents didn't."

Thanks, Mario, for that great reminder that it's important at the holidays also to remember and include the people who are like family to us. 

 

* * * * *

One of the hardest jobs a parent faces is answering all those questions kids ask that sometimes force us to think about things that hadn’t occurred to us as adults.  Mary from Ohio wrote:

“Our 6-year-old grandson, Isaiah, who was adopted from Guatemala, posed this question to his parents: ‘Was Baby Jesus adopted?’  Wow! The answer is so deep, and leads to so many other Biblical references to adoption.  Joseph wasn't Jesus' father - God was, but Joseph raised him here on Earth. When we accept Jesus, we're adopted into His Heavenly Family, so we're all brothers and sisters. When we become a member of Jesus' family, we're also adopted into the Family of His chosen people, the Jews.  So...it seems to me, not only was Jesus adopted, He was the author of Adoption.  From the mouths of babes.”

Thank you, Mary.  I have a feeling that as that special little boy has grown up, he’s given your family a lot to think about and a lot to be thankful for. And here’s a story that highlights another aspect of adoption, from the other point of view:

Tia from Kansas wrote that Christmas was always the hardest time of year to face, until she discovered a very personal connection to the true meaning of Christmas:

"When I was 16, I was alone and scared on Christmas -- having a baby that I decided to give up for adoption.  For years afterward, I didn't like Christmas and never did much during the season.  But the Lord changed my heart, showing me that I gave a beautiful gift to some family, my only son, just like He did. I've enjoyed and celebrated Christmas ever since." 

Thank you, Tia.  I know your son's adoptive parents would thank you a million times over, if they could, for the greatest Christmas gift they ever received. I’m sure Mary from Ohio would agree. 

 

* * * * *

 

These days, too many people are trying to take religion out of the Christmas season.  It sometimes makes me think, “Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do…or what they’re missing.”  Maybe this letter will make it clear. 

A Reverend wrote to me from Malawi:

“After having been raised up in urban North American culture, it was refreshing, but also a bit disorientating, to spend my first Christmas in Africa in 2009. There was a Baptist Church of course, but no Christmas Trees and no caroling in the streets, and no mad dash to the Mall to buy presents. The mixed congregation of ex-pats and nationals who attended the Christmas Sunday service sang the carols we were accustomed to, but there appeared to be far less excitement…

This is the ‘Hungry Times’ when most folks, aside from us ex-pats, are living off of the stored up remnants of last year’s harvest, with an eye to how little there is left and how long until the next harvest comes in. Nevertheless, on the morning after Christmas, we were all called to return to the Church and bring food and clothing and the Word of God and prepare to visit Zomba Central Prison to distribute some hope and good cheer.

This Prison is a daunting facility built by Colonialists in the 1930's that, today, houses twice as many inmates as it was designed for. We shared the goods and the Gospel with inmates, in both men's wing and women's wing. And so, for me, began a ministry of Prison Chaplaincy in the Prisons of southern Malawi.

…It’s ‘Hungry Time" again, but I thank God that the inmates are hungry for the Gospel.  In the six Prisons and Prison Farms where we work, we have seen over 240 decisions to accept Christ (including many from Muslim backgrounds) and 160 inmates Baptized and inmates are being transformed by the power of God. Some of those counseled before release are eager to return to their villages and tell others of the one who came as our Savior that first Christmas morning.  And for that, I'll forever enjoy a different kind of Christmas.” 

Thank you, Reverend, for sharing your unique Christmas experience with us.  If you’d like to learn more about the fine work done by Emmanuel International Mission in Malawi and elsewhere, you can read about it online at www.EIM-US.org

 

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Recently, police officers have become targets of hatred, assaults and even deadly violence.  Right now is a perfect time to stop and reflect on the many ways in which police officers and other first responders such as firefighters and EMTs give up their holidays so that we can enjoy ours in safety.  Many officers also go above and beyond the call of duty by performing incredible volunteer work.  One of those was a listener of mine named Randy, a retired police sergeant from Wyoming.  He shared a memory of a time when playing Santa Claus should have come with hazardous duty pay. 

Randy wrote:

"For many years, it was my distinct pleasure to assume the role of 'real Santa' at Christmas time. Though my sleigh was still a black and white sedan, my uniform changed from dark blues to a genuine Santa suit. I appeared on Christmas Eve, right at bedtime, delivering toys to needy children as well as my fellow officers…who had small children. What made this all work was the 'understanding' of the parents to make sure the kids were close to the front window upon my arrival, that they were not allowed out on the porch (where I left their gifts) until I was out of sight, and under NO circumstances were any pets to be loose.

All the parents were following Santa's instructions to the letter...until I got to my Chief's house. I gently placed (his sons') gifts on the porch (and) began to shake the bells, anticipating three squashed, tiny faces peering into the frosty night, trying to catch a glimpse of Santa. To my surprise...No faces. I shook the bells harder and added a hearty ‘HO, HO, HO!’ Still, no faces.

Now in mid-‘HO,’ I heard the front door open and a small dog barking. 'For cryin' out loud,' I muttered, as I jumped toward the driveway. If only I'd remembered the small wire fence surrounding his wife's flower bed. There was no time to pick myself up, as I heard high-pitched giggles floating on the cold night air.  A quick double combat roll placed me out of innocent eyes' way, underneath my boss's pickup truck."

Then Randy heard a noise that seemed to be very close: "I smelled the dog food on his breath a scant millisecond before he yapped out the alarm. The 'WHOA!' that jumped from my lips was cut painfully short as I rammed my head into the pickup's driveline... The thought crossed my mind to reach out and pinch off his little windpipe, but that seemed a bit ugly for Christmas Eve."

A pair of cowboy boots suddenly replaced the dog: "I recognized my boss's voice as the words, 'Merry Christmas, heh, heh, heh," settled onto the cold concrete... 'Merry Christmas, Chief,' I replied as a solitary drop of black engine oil struck me dead center in the forehead. 'THANKS FOR NOT TURNING ON THE PORCH LIGHT!'

I continued on my rounds, a black greasy racing stripe running from my white curly beard to my belt, a well-lubricated lump on my forehead. I finished just as a soft snow began to fall, covering everything in a glistening blanket of white. It seemed the perfect punctuation mark to end another Christmas on Patrol."

Thanks again for that great story, Randy.  And thanks to all the police officers and other first responders and military members who go above and beyond, and sometimes even roll underneath, to keep us all safe during the holidays and all year ‘round.

* * * * *

One thing we all learned from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is that it’s not how fancy your tree is that matters, it’s the love it represents.  A radio listener of mine named Vicky from California sent me a beautiful story that illustrated that as well as Charles M. Schulz did.

Vicky recalled a time years before, when her young family was desperately poor and struggling to provide Christmas for their three small children.  Her husband brought home a tree, but was so exhausted after working 14 hours, he hadn't noticed it was dead and brown on one side. 

A neighbor tried to help by giving them a little 18-inch, lighted tabletop tree.  Vickie thought it was so small and ugly, she began to cry at the thought that this shrunken thing would be their family's tree.  Just then, her little daughter began to cry, too, and hugged her. But she was crying for a very different reason.

The little girl said in awe, “That is the most beautiful tree I have ever seen. Do we really get to have that as our tree this year?" 

Vicki wrote, “I had a permanent attitude change.  That night, I couldn't stop thanking our Heavenly Father enough for His blessings.”  

So you see, it’s true: A little child shall lead them. 

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On Christmas, we celebrate the birth of the One who told us, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”  But on holidays like this that emphasize parties and socializing, many people feel lonely or abandoned.  They may not realize how many people around them really do care about them. 

Linda from North Carolina wrote:

 "Several years ago, we had a family up the hill who were having a very rough time. They had broken glass in their windows, no heat and no prospects for a nice Christmas.

We got neighbors together and one day when they were gone, the men went up and put in new glass, bought heaters and warmed up their trailer and went to get them a Christmas tree. The ladies and kids made ornaments, went to stores and got donations of toys and clothing, food and electric blankets. We all met at the trailer, cooked, decorated, put up the tree, wrapped packages, and made beds with the new blankets then went to our home to wait for them to return.

A while later, the family came running down the hill in the snow and flew into our house, trying to tell us through tears what someone had done.  The mother couldn't believe that so many people cared about them. She didn't realize it, but being able to do that for them made Christmas very special for all of us.”

Thank you, Linda, for that perfect story to remind us that the gifts that give us the most satisfaction aren’t those we get, but the ones we give to others.